Surging Demand, Insufficient Supply for Novel Weight Loss Drugs

As shortages of hot new weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy persist due to surging consumer demand, patients are increasingly exploring older, time-tested alternatives that have stood the test of time.

The Allure of the Next Big Thing

The pharmaceutical world is witnessing a notable shift in prescription trends due to the scarcity of popular weight-loss drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy. These novel medications have shown remarkable promise in helping patients lose weight.

For example, in a recent study from 2022, Ozempic showed positive results for obesity, including weight loss, better energy intake, and a lower preference for fatty foods.

However, as demand has outpaced supply, severe shortages have left many patients and healthcare providers scrambling.

Back to Basics

In the absence of consistent access to the latest medications, patients and doctors are revisiting several traditional weight loss drugs that have existed for decades.

Medications like phentermine, metformin, and bupropion are seeing renewed demand like never before. While they may not lead to the dramatic shedding of pounds that the newer injectables can offer, these tried-and-tested drugs do have an established track record of aiding gradual but meaningful weight loss in many patients.

The Appeal of Familiarity

These generic medications are more broadly available, do not require extensive prior authorizations from insurance companies, and have lower out-of-pocket costs for patients relative to the latest biological drugs.

Physicians accustomed to prescribing these long-standing medications they also offer the benefits of familiarity and time-proven safety. Their accessibility and affordability provide viable options for the many patients who do not have financial coverage for the costlier modern alternatives.

Still Clinically Meaningful

While the magnitude of weight loss from these drugs does not match the 10% or more reductions that newer options can deliver, studies show they do lead to statistically significant loss of between 5-10% total body weight over 6-12 month periods ( 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ).

Such weight loss meets clinical guidelines for meaningful health improvements and risk factor reduction. Therefore, stepping up the use of these medicines while awaiting consistent access to the most advanced drugs is a pragmatic approach.

An Industry Adapting

The shortages brought on by the incredible appetite for obesity pharmacotherapy reflect the dynamics of an industry struggling to keep pace with soaring demand in a therapeutic area that has long been overlooked and underserved.

As manufacturers work to expand production capacity, ensure access, and address complex distribution challenges, temporary shortfalls are likely to persist.

Meanwhile, expanding patient options with safe, moderately effective therapies proven over decades of use is a wise course so that those battling excess weight have viable alternatives while next-generation solutions scale up.

  1. Sabbá, H. B. O., Viana, C. A. S., Silva, C. B., Alves, D. R., Miranda, J. L. F., Rodruigues, M. C., & Santos, P. H. F. dos. (2022). Ozempic (Semaglutide) for the treatment of obesity: advantages and disadvantages from an integrative analysis. Research, Society and Development, 11(11), e587111133963 . Read Study
  2. Kang JG, Park CY, Kang JH, Park YW, Park SW. Randomized controlled trial to investigate the effects of a newly developed formulation of phentermine diffuse-controlled release for obesity. Diabetes Obes Metab 2010; 12:876–882
  3. Kim KK, Cho HJ, Kang HC, Youn BB, Lee KR. Effects on weight reduction and safety of short-term phentermine administration in Korean obese people. Yonsei Med J 2006; 47:614–625
  4. Munro JF, MacCuish AC, Wilson EM, Duncan LJ. Comparison of continuous and intermittent anorectic therapy in obesity. BMJ 1968; 1:352–354
  5. Valle-Jones JC, Brodie NH, O’Hara H, O’Hara J, McGhie RL. A comparative study of phentermine and diethylpropion in the treatment of obese patients in general practice. Pharmatherapeutica 1983; 3:300–304