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Translation of a-t 2023; 54: 31


Novo Nordisk - dubious marketing of GLP-1 agonists for obesity

Novo Nordisk has been suspended from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) for two years for serious breaches of the industry code that could undermine trust in the pharmaceutical industry. Among other things, the company failed to disclose its sponsoring of online training courses for specialist groups that contained positive information about the GLP-1 agonist liraglutide (SAXENDA) to treat obesity. The training course on liraglutide also did not include references to risks, while they were mentioned for competitor products.1 Novo Nordisk is now also facing criticism about semaglutide (OZEMPIC), the company's second GLP-1 agonist, due to a lack of transparency and payments to opinion leaders.2 Like liraglutide, semaglutide was initially marketed as a treatment for insufficiently well controlled type 2 diabetes (a-t 2020; 51: 25-8). The active substance has also been approved for the treatment of obesity in the EU3 as WEGOVY for one year, and it's already available in the US and Great Britain. However, Novo Nordisk is not able to (or does not wish to) give us any information about when WEGOVY will be available on the market here.4 The delay may be due to the fact that there are already delivery shortfalls for the semaglutide diabetes version OZEMPIC because of "high demand",5 and this is likely to last the whole of 2023.5,6 The off-label use at higher doses to treat obesity obviously contributes to this. The French National Agency for the Safety of Medicine and Health Products (ANSM) assumes that around one in 100 prescriptions is off-label.6 Novo Nordisk currently highlights that OZEMPIC is only approved for diabetes5 but at the same time encourages the hype about the use to treat obesity. In Great Britain, the company has paid within three years a total of around 21.7 million pounds (24.7 million euros) to experts and organisations including important opinion leaders who have since touted semaglutide as a "game changer" in obesity in a campaign described as an "orchestrated PR campaign".2 In addition to chats in digital media, lay media in Germany are also starting to talk about the "weight loss injections".7 We will assess the benefits and harm of the GLP-1 agonist for weight loss as soon as it is available in Germany, -Ed.

1WISE, J.: BMJ 2023; 380: p634 (2 pages)
2DAS, S., UNGOED-THOMAS, J.: Observer of 12 March 2023; https://a-turl.de/p7ma (registration needed)
3EMA: WEGOVY (semaglutide), information from 10 March 2022; https://a-turl.de/zju2
4Novo Nordisk: letter of 6 March 2023
5Novo Nordisk: doctor's letter of March 2023; https://a-turl.de/qkms
6ANSM: notification of 1 March 2023; https://a-turl.de/wn3y
7e.g. ABERLE, J., in "Bild am Sonntag" on 12 March 2023

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