(Bloomberg) -- People struggling to lose weight in the UK are finally able to get their hands on the weight-loss drug Wegovy – at a fraction of the costs facing US patients.
But most who have signed up to take the weekly self-injections will remain on the waiting list for some time, as only limited supplies have been released by Novo Nordisk in a “controlled and limited launch.”
The prescription medication, which reduces appetite and cravings, is being marketed for between £199 ($251) and £299 ($377) a month depending on the dosage by Boots — part of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. — and Simple Online Pharmacy. High street chain Superdrug is selling it for between £199 and £295.
That’s as much as five times cheaper than in the US, where Wegovy sells for more than $1,300 a month. American patients are also paying more than in other countries, such as Germany, where the treatment is advertised at just over €300 ($323).
Shares in Novo, the Danish pharmaceuticals giant behind Wegovy and a similar diabetes drug Ozempic, rose to a record-high Monday, up 1.4% in Copenhagen. It is Europe’s most valuable company, having climbed above luxury goods business LVMH.
Read More: Ozempic Maker Overtakes LVMH as Biggest European Company
Wegovy has soared in popularity in the US thanks to its A-list users, including Elon Musk.
British patients suffering from obesity have for months been able to join waiting lists for Wegovy. Limited supplies of the drug were released to specialist National Health Service weight management services and private doctors on Monday. Wegovy was recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, known as NICE, last year for managing obesity.
Ozempic is being used to treat diabetes but high demand for it to be used off-label for weight loss has led to shortages. Novo has seen similar shortages for Wegovy. It said it expected supply of Wegovy to be constrained for the foreseeable future.
An NHS spokesperson said around 50,000 patients in England could be prescribed Wegovy, despite its manufacturer’s supply constraints.
Superdrug said it expected very high demand in the UK based on the long waiting list after 20,000 people signed up earlier this year. Due to limited supplies, the drug is only available in Boots to patients already taking Saxenda, another Novo treatment that requires a daily injection and which has seen a shortage of supply due to soaring demand.
Rebecca Moore, the chief operating officer of Simple Online Pharmacy, said more than 50,000 people had signed up to access the drug before today’s launch, which caused a spike in traffic on its website.
She expects demand in the UK for Wegovy, which is also known as semaglutide, to be higher than in other countries such as the US and Denmark. “In the UK we are in the unprecedented position where global Saxenda supplies have been short for the months preceding the Wegovy launch so there is also considerable pent-up demand,” she said in emailed comments.
The typical patient looking for any weight-loss medication has been living with obesity for five or more years, Moore added, citing Simple’s data. She said the data also indicated that 72% of Simple’s Saxenda patients will switch immediately to Wegovy when available.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.