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Obesity patient: diabetes remedy can help

Photo: David Ebener/ picture alliance / dpa

Because a prescription diabetes drug is increasingly being used as a weight loss aid, the supply has stalled. "We currently have a supply bottleneck for a diabetes drug, semaglutides, because we have noticed that this can also be used to lose weight," said David Francas, Professor of Data and Supply Chain Analysis at Worms University of Applied Sciences. "It's hyped and suddenly you have an off-label use for the drug, which can also drive demand."

In the case of off-label German use, a drug is used against a disease for which it has not been approved by the regulatory authorities.

Semaglutide has been approved in Europe since 2018 as a diabetes drug "Ozempic" to lower blood sugar levels. Since the beginning of 2022, the EU has also allowed its sale as a remedy that can help with weight loss. The brand name "Wegovy" is intended for this area of application: It is intended for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, i.e. obesity, and for overweight people (BMI from 27) with at least one weight-related concomitant disease.

However, "Wegovy" is not yet available in Germany, as the manufacturer Novo Nordisk Pharma confirmed on request. Apparently, doctors are prescribed the diabetes drug "Ozempic" instead of those who want to lose weight. It is not acceptable for me to prescribe an anti-diabetic off-label for someone who wants to lose weight. That's an absurdity, because I also have a responsibility as a prescriber," Torsten Hoppe-Tichy, head of the pharmacy at Heidelberg University Hospital, criticized this use.

Semaglutide has been hyped on social networks in recent months, partly because some celebrities are said to have lost weight. For example, when asked about the secret of his appearance, tech billionaire Elon Musk mentioned the name of the drug in addition to fasting. Doctors report increased demand from patients for the remedy.

In one study, patients who received one dose of semaglutide per week to accompany lifestyle changes lost about 68 percent weight on average after 15 weeks. A comparison group that received a dummy drug lost only a good two percent in the same period, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

As early as the end of 2022, the German Society of Endocrinology (DGE) warned of risks and side effects and "uncontrolled use not approved by the regulatory authorities". One of the problems is that a lifestyle application has not been investigated, DGE spokesman Stephan Petersenn explained. "It is unclear whether an overweight patient who is not obese loses weight at all." Side effects such as nausea and diarrhea are also possible. In general, the application should be embedded in an overall therapy concept with nutrition and exercise under medical supervision.