GLP-1 Medicines: Constrained Supply, High Prices, Low Access

The news arrived in our inbox yesterday. Drug shortages that have plagued semaglutide and tirzepatide are growing worse, not fading. Novo Nordisk quietly let the word out: those supply shortages are no longer limited to Ozempic and Wegovy. Saxenda is entering a prolonged period of shortage. So it now appears that constrained supply, high prices, and low access to these important medicines will be with us for the foreseeable future.

“Difficulty for Many Patients”

The word from Novo Nordisk was matter of fact:

“Unfortunately, we anticipate that many patients will have difficulty filling their Saxenda® prescriptions for the remainder of 2023 and beyond. We sincerely regret and apologize for disruption to care that patients and healthcare providers may experience. We encourage patients who are affected to discuss alternative treatment options with their healthcare provider and work together to adjust care plans appropriately.”

The bottom line here is: sorry, but if you counted on this company to supply this medicine, you’re out of luck. Better make other plans.

As a rather harsh footnote, the company also announced it would immediately cancel any offers of financial assistance with out of pocket costs through the Saxenda Savings program. A quick check of their website confirmed the company’s efficiency in making this move.

Unforeseeable Events, Poor Planning, or Greed?

It is impossible to know whether this extended problem with adequate supplies of these important GLP-1 medicines is the result of unforeseeable events, lousy planning, or simple greed.

Certainly, the company presents an earnest narrative: “We take our responsibility to meet the needs of people living with obesity very seriously.” Having witnessed the years of work to develop these medicines and foster a better understanding of obesity care, we have plenty of reasons to believe this.

It’s also reasonable to think that the rapid change in attitudes about taking an obesity medicine unfolded far faster and more dramatically than anyone could predict. Who knew that Ozempic would be one of the biggest stories of 2023 – six years after it quietly entered the market?

On the other hand, facts support a credible narrative that this big shift was easy to predict. After all, this was the whole point of the company’s commitment to obesity drug development. By the time FDA approved semaglutide for obesity treatment, everyone knew it would be a “game changer.” Is it too much to expect a company that aims to disrupt a small, underdeveloped market to plan for that disruption?

Finally, there is a narrative of greed. Money talks in the global healthcare system. It talks very loudly in U.S. healthcare. The benefit is that all this money brings amazing innovation. Like semaglutide, tirzepatide, and a whole litany of new GLP-1 related medicines rolling in.

Obesity Care for the Few

The bad news is that it gives us obesity care for the few and the wealthy. We are stuck for now with constrained supplies, high prices, and low access to care. This is not a good public image for a business that proclaims a commitment to “expanding access to our medicines.”

We trust their commitment is real and better news in the future will show this to be true.

Shortage, photograph by David Falconer for the Environmental Protection Agency / Wikimedia Commons

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July 1, 2023

2 Responses to “GLP-1 Medicines: Constrained Supply, High Prices, Low Access”

  1. July 01, 2023 at 12:00 pm, Allen Browne said:



  2. July 10, 2023 at 12:31 am, Catherine Hudson said:

    I think that a company this big, who had to anticipate this kind of demand is certainly capable of meeting the demand but it would require changing the packaging which would cause them to lose control over pricing. Imagine if they dispensed it like a vial of insulin or rather a vial of compounded semaglutide. It would eliminate the supply chain issues with the injectable pens that are the supposed rate limiting factor here. But then you couldn’t charge the same price for a 0.25mg pen and a 2.4mg pen of Wegovy.