Obesity drug Wegovy available Monday in Canada

Obesity drug Wegovy available Monday in Canada
Obesity drug Wegovy available Monday in Canada

The makers of Ozempic say their weight-loss drug Wegovy will be available in Canada for obese patients starting Monday.


Posted at 4:51 p.m.

Nicole Ireland

The Canadian Press

The weekly injection from Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk is approved for weight loss in patients who have been medically diagnosed with obesity.

Wegovy may also be prescribed to patients who are significantly overweight and have at least one related medical condition, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or obstructive sleep apnea.

Dr. Sanjeev Sockalingam of Obesity Canada says it’s a serious condition and Wegovy is an important treatment option. He reminds that this medication is not intended for “aesthetic” use.

Wegovy contains the same substance – semaglutide – as the diabetes drug Ozempic, but in a higher dose.

Dr. Sockalingam, scientific director of Obesity Canada, explains that this Wegovy complements the toolbox of all clinicians who see many patients with obesity. The drug is intended to be used in tandem with physical activity and nutrition, the doctor said.

Obesity Canada will update its medication guidelines to include Wegovy, Dr. Sockalingam said.

Health Canada approved it in November 2021 based on studies that demonstrated “statistically and significantly greater weight loss in subjects treated with semaglutide compared to subjects treated with placebo,” the federal government’s website states.

Doctors may prescribe it to patients with obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kilograms per square meter or more.

They can also prescribe Wegovy to “overweight” patients, with a BMI of 27 and above, if they also have at least one weight-related medical problem. This could include hypertension, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia (an imbalance of lipids such as cholesterol or triglycerides), and obstructive sleep apnea.

After the Ozempic rush

Wegovy comes after heavy marketing of Ozempic and a rise in demand for off-label use of the drug for weight loss, fueled by social media. Experts say it is essential that health professionals who prescribe it, including general practitioners, ensure that Wegovy is only administered to patients who meet specific criteria.

“At the end of the day, doctors are the gatekeepers of this and we hope that medications are prescribed responsibly,” said Dr. Ehud Ur, an endocrinologist in Vancouver.

Dr. Sockalingam further emphasizes that when it comes to prescribing this medication, “we want to make sure that we are very specific, that we don’t talk […] physical or aesthetic appearance.

“This is a medical treatment for a medical condition,” insists the specialist.

High price

But the high cost of Wegovy raises the question of equitable access, said Priti Chawla, director of the organization Obesity Matters.

“Many people in our community, and especially those in the lowest socioeconomic bracket, find these treatments financially out of reach,” she said. “It is essential that we work to make Wegovy affordable and accessible to all Canadians who need it. »

Novo Nordisk Canada did not provide The Canadian Press with a price for its Wegovy. The pharmaceutical company states in an email that “drug prices in Canada are influenced by multiple factors, including federal, provincial and territorial governments and insurance providers, and prices can vary from person to person” .

But several experts estimate that the treatment would probably cost around $400 per month.

Now that there is a drug specifically approved for weight loss, insurance companies “need to clarify whether or not they will cover this product,” said Dr. Sean Wharton, an internal medicine specialist who treats patients with diabetes. type 2 and obesity in Toronto.

Side effects

The most common side effects seen in clinical trials were gastrointestinal in nature, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain, Drs. Ur and Wharton said.

Starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it to the maintenance dose of 2.4 mg should help alleviate these symptoms, they said.

Some study participants also reported headaches, fatigue and dizziness, Novo Nordisk’s page states.

Semaglutide has been linked to thyroid tumors in rodents, the webpage also states. But according to Dr. Wharton, there have never been any cases of thyroid tumors in humans taking Ozempic or Wegovy, and there is no evidence to suggest such a risk to humans.

Dr. Ur agrees: he argues that a person would only be at risk if they were part of the “handful” of Canadians who already have this rare thyroid tumor.

The Canadian Press’ health content receives funding through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Press is solely responsible for editorial choices.

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