Maker of weight loss jab Wegovy accused of 'bribing' medics

Maker of miracle weight loss jab Wegovy is accused of ‘bribing health professionals with an inducement to prescribe’

  •  Company was found to have unfairly promoted its own drug to British medics
  •  Read more: Is the miracle weight-loss drug Wegovy REALLY a game-changer?

The drug company behind the ‘miracle’ weight loss jab Wegovy faced a sanction today following accusations it ‘bribed’ pharmacists.

Novo Nordisk has been sensationally kicked out of the trade body following an ‘extensive investigation’.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) stated the Danish-firm had behaved in a manner likely to ‘discredit or reduce confidence’ in the sector.

It stemmed from a free training event for UK healthcare professionals which was sponsored by the drug giant.

This training also came with the offer to help fund the prescription paperwork to help them prescribe their drug to Brits wanting to lose weight. 

Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk has been suspended from a British pharmaceutical industry body after it was found to have broken ethical standards

A spokesperson for Novo Nordisk which makes Wegovy (pictured) told MailOnline: ‘While we are disappointed with this outcome, we accept the decision.

The ABPI found this was tantamount to offering medics an ‘inducement to prescribe’, with just under 4,500 UK health professionals having taken part before the alarm was raised. 

It comes after Novo Nordisk was enjoying a massive wave of publicity, after its drug Wegovy was approved for use on the NHS. 

The suspension from the ABPI will last for two years.

A ‘concerned’ UK health professional reported the ad on the professional networking website LinkedIn from a training company with a connection to Novo Nordisk in June 2021.

The ad featured an image of an overweight women on her mobile phone holding a drink, sat on a bench in a park with the text: ‘With #obesity affecting around 1 in 4 #adults in the #UK, is your #pharmacy offering a #weight management service? We have funding to get you started if not! Join us Sunday morning for a FREE #webinar to start your journey.’

Read more: Everything you need to know about ‘game-changing’ weight loss jab WeGovy – from how it’s different to Ozempic to who can get it and how it works

It amounted to ‘bribing health professionals with an inducement to prescribe,’ the complaint alleged. 

While the advert did not directly name Novo Nordisk, the accompanying link to the website mentioned that the firm had reviewed all the materials for accuracy. 

Material from the training event presented Saxenda as the more favourable weight loss option compared to other medications. 

Saxenda, also called liraglutide, is made by Novo Nordisk.

In response to the APBI’s initial investigation , Novo Nordisk claimed it had agreed to provide sponsorship to ensure health professionals would receive training from a reputable provider.

It said it supported the activity at an ‘arm’s length’.

The ABPI panel investigating the complaint found that the company had breached standards it expected of its some 120-strong membership. 

It concluded that the company’s provision of funding for health professionals, including training over two years on how to set up a weight-loss service, was clearly linked to the promotion of its drug Saxenda and intended to directly increase its use.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry suspended Novo Nordisk’s membership for two years for its ties to a training event that heavily favoured a weight loss jab it made called Saxenda, also known as liraglutide, compared to other medications

The ABPI investigation said of the 4,399 health professionals that completed the training, 599 took up the offer of Novo Nordisk’s funded prescription support. 

They also said they were concerned about the ‘impact of patient safety of providing unbalanced information to a wide audience’, particularly given that weight loss is a ‘highly emotional arena’.

The panel also noted the lack of balance of Saxenda’s safety profile and side effects when comparing it with its competitors. 

A Novo Nordisk spokesperson said: ‘While we are disappointed with this outcome, we accept the decision. 

‘We will remain committed to following the ABPI Code of Practice and maintaining the highest possible ethical standards required by the pharmaceutical industry.’

This is only eighth time in the past four decades the ABPI — which lobbies the Government on behalf of its members  — has issued such a significant sanction.

Novo Nordisk will be subject to audits in 2023 and 2024, where it will need to show ‘clear, significant and sustained improvement’ for the ABPI to consider allowing the company to resume membership.

The suspension follows the departure of Pinder Sahota, Novo Nordisk British business head, who resigned from his role as ABPI president last month to avoid the breach becoming a ‘distraction’ from the association’s ‘vital work’ while the complaint was being investigated.

Novo Nordisk is considered market leader in the rapidly growing area of weight loss through medicinal treatment.

Wealthy nations are grappling with spiralling rates of obesity and related conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, sparking a desperate hunt for solutions.

Saxenda is an older drug that has been already approved for weight loss on the NHS, and is also known as liraglutide.

It is an injectable drug that is administered daily, which works by making the person feel fuller and less hungry. 

This leads them to eat less and, in theory, lose weight.

Liraglutide is generally only prescribed after a patient gets referred to a specialist weight loss management service and when other weight loss drugs hasn’t worked.

It works in a similar fashion to Novo Nordisk’s new obesity treatment Wegovy, though the latter is deemed to be even more effective. 

Despite being hailed as one of the most powerful pharmaceutical tools to date, experts have warned it is not a ‘magic pill’ or miracle fix all. Trials have shown that users can rapidly pile pounds back on once they stop taking the fat-fighting drug and it can trigger a variety of nasty side effects. Users commonly complain of nausea, constipation and diarrhoea after taking the medication

Wegovy works by triggering the body to produce a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 that is released naturally from the intestines after meals

It comes after the NHS drugs watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved Wegovy for use in people who have a BMI of 35 or more — a classification which means they are morbidly obese.

Patients must also have at least one weight-related comorbidity, such as type 2 diabetes, to be eligible.

Adults with a BMI between 30 and 35 could also be recommended the drug, if they have been referred for specialist help.

But patients eligible for the injections, which work through an active ingredient called semaglutide, must only use them for up to two years.

And, despite being hailed as one of the most powerful pharmaceutical tools to date, experts have warned it is not a ‘magic pill’ or miracle fix all.  

Trials have shown that users can rapidly pile pounds back on once they stop taking the fat-fighting drug, dubbed ‘Hollywood’s worst-kept secret’ and used by the likes of Elon Musk.

And it can trigger a variety of nasty side effects. Some patients have told of how they have had to stop taking the drug because of them.

Users commonly complain of nausea, constipation and diarrhoea after taking the medication. 

Some also suffer from acid reflux, fatigue and complain that food tastes different after taking the drug. 

It is this side effect that some people credit for further assisting their weight loss — by making their favourite junk foods taste bad.

Other rarer side effects include gallstones, inflammation of your pancreas — known medically as pancreatitis — and an increased risk of low blood sugar and kidney problems. 

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