High demand weight-loss drug 'Wegovy' now covered by Japan's health insurance

TOKYO, Nov 23 (News On Japan) - Danish pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk's anti-obesity drug "Wegovy" is now covered by Japan's public health insurance scheme. Doctor's, however, are concerned about the long-term effects of this highly addictive weight-loss treatment, and whether worldwide supply shortages will stop it getting into the hands of people who need it most.

The World Obesity Federation warns that by 2025, one in five adults worldwide may be obese, with a third of them having severe obesity with a BMI over 35.

Wegovy leads to an approximate 10% weight reduction through weekly injections of 2.4 mg, as per research including data from Japan. It's a self-administered injection that works by suppressing appetite and stomach movement, aiding in obesity treatment.

Chiba University Hospital's Dr. Kei Ono highlights the scarcity of such obesity drugs globally, with countries like Germany imposing export bans. In the United States, Wegovy's insurance coverage was approved in 2021, and its sales have more than tripled compared to the same period last year.

Another high-demand drug is "Ozempic," originally a diabetes medication known for its appetite-suppressing effects and used off-label for weight loss. Dr. Walden, an expert in obesity treatment drugs, notes the popularity of Wegovy and Ozempic in their clinic, with many patients seeking weight loss for cosmetic reasons.

However, Dr. Walden also points out that these drugs are not a permanent solution and can lead to dependency. Priority should be given to diabetic patients, and there are concerns about drug shortages due to unprescribed use, similar to what happened in the U.S.

Koichi Nagata, suffering from obesity with a BMI exceeding 42, has struggled to lose weight despite efforts like cycling, diet control, and weight training. Wegovy offers hope for fat burning and metabolic improvement, but concerns about side effects remain.

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has guidelines against prescribing these drugs for non-medical weight loss. Dr. Ono expresses concerns about potential misuse for diet purposes and the resulting supply shortages, affecting those in genuine need.

Additionally, Dr. Ono warns of potential side effects like nausea and acute pancreatitis, emphasizing the importance of following prescribed dosages and medical guidance.