The Supply Boat

A Strained Supply of Obesity and Diabetes Meds

There’s a clue in the strained supply of new obesity and diabetes meds that most everyone is missing. For more than a year now, Novo Nordisk has been unable to produce and distribute an adequate supply of semaglutide in the form of Wegovy for the treatment of obesity. This has knock-on effects. So supply of the Ozempic brand of semaglutide (used for diabetes) has become strained, too. Likewise, the supply of a related drug, dulaglutide marketed as Trulicity, is strained all over the world. Another part of this story is the demand for Mounjaro, known generically as tirzepatide. First available in June, the demand for this new diabetes drug with a mode of action related to semaglutide has its maker scrambling to keep up with demand.

This strain in the supply for these related diabetes and obesity meds is telling us something quite simple. The unmet medical need for obesity treatment is quite large.

The Wrong Lesson in Clickbait

It’s almost funny how this blindingly obvious fact becomes obscure in the fog of sensational reporting and social media about the situation. There are several misleading threads in the popular narrative.

One is the celebrity thread. When the subject of Elon Musk or a Hollywood celebrity taking Wegovy comes up, the story revolves around his personality of excess, raising questions about the legitimacy of his using it. Commenters forget about the possibility that his metabolic health might require it. Sensationalism brings more clicks, as do all the stories about other celebrities using it.

Dismissing the Medical Need

Another angle is the inclination to express bias about obesity by dismissing the medical need for effective obesity meds. This dismissal is implicit in stories about demand for obesity treatment getting in the way of an adequate supply of diabetes meds.

Again, sensation makes it easy to gloss over the fact that obesity and diabetes are closely related metabolic diseases. The needs for treatment of each of these conditions move in parallel.

Getting Past the Strain

We have no doubt that Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly will get past the supply strain of the moment. Lilly is working furiously to double their capacity to manufacture incretins – the class that all of these drugs belong to. Likewise, Novo Nordisk recently announced that they will be able to meet demand for semaglutide in all its forms by the end of the year.

But easing the strain on supply of these obesity and diabetes meds should not lead us to forget the fundamental fact that’s driving the situation. The unmet medical need for better treatments of obesity and diabetes is tremendous. No matter how much our systems of care neglect the need or restrict access to care, the need is real.

We must do better to meet it.

For further perspective on the growing unmet need for obesity treatment, click here.

The Supply Boat, painting by J.E.H. MacDonald / WikiArt

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November 7, 2022