'Game-changer' weight loss jab study sparks stampede for prescriptions

Two packages of a fictitious Semaglutide drug used for weight loss (antidiabetic or anti-obesity medication) on a blue transparent background. Fictiti

Pharmacies reported a surge in enquiries following promising research (Image: Getty)

The discovery that weight loss jabs could be the biggest heart health breakthrough since statins has sparked a stampede for prescriptions.

Pharmacies reported increases of more than 400 percent in demand for consultations from people wanting to access the drugs this week.

The rush was triggered by research showing that overweight patients with heart disease who took semaglutide for at least three years cut their risk of heart attack, stroke or cardiac death by a fifth.

Superdrug saw a 478 percent spike in interest in weight loss jabs after the study was published on Tuesday, compared to its daily average.

Simple Online Pharmacy and Pharmacy2U both said they had seen four-fold day-on-day increases. And Well Pharmacy noted a “significant increase in the number of patients viewing and enquiring about our weight loss services”.

READ MORE: ‘I’m a pharmacist – there are potential side effects to weight loss drug Wegovy’

Women injecting semaglutide

Semaglutide is available on the NHS or by private prescription (Image: Getty)

Phil Day, Pharmacy2U pharmacy superintendent, said: “The latest research about semaglutide’s potential benefits for cardiovascular health has led to significant interest in, and demand for, these services with a four-fold increase in new patient bookings in the last 24 hours. 

“We have very good supply of these weight loss medications and are confident that we can meet the increase in demand. 

“It is however important to reinforce that new patients need to meet the stringent criteria of being overweight or obese with a BMI over 30, or a BMI of over 27 and who have been diagnosed with a condition that is made worse by weight gain, such as a heart condition.”

Simple Online Pharmacy said the latest surge came on top of already “huge demand for these revolutionary” drugs.

It noted a particular increase in men booking consultations – with almost double the proportion starting treatment between January and May this year compared to the same period in 2023.

Rebecca Moore, COO at Simple Online Healthcare, said: “This study highlights that we are only just beginning to understand the impact that this medication could have and it is particularly interesting that it may also shift the demographic for those seeking treatment.”

The jabs are available on the NHS through specialist weight management services, or via a private prescription after an online consultation.

Woman, pharmacist consulting customer at counter for prescription drugs or medicine at the pharmacy. Male doctor giving patient medical antibiotics at

Pharmacies can prescribe the drugs after a consultation (Image: Getty)

Ozempic and Wegovy both contain semaglutide. Ozempic is only available to patients with Type 2 diabetes, while Wegovy is licensed for weight loss.

The treatments work by mimicking hormones which regulate hunger. Other similar jabs available in the UK include Mounjaro, Saxenda and Victoza.

The study’s findings, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Venice, were hailed as the biggest breakthrough in cardiac medicine since the introduction of statins in the 1990s.

University College London’s Professor John Deanfield, who conducted the trial analysis, described the results as a “game-changer” that could eventually lead to millions more patients being prescribed semaglutide.

Some 7.6 million Britons have heart disease and the results indicated that around half could benefit.

Experts said the spike in interest was not surprising, but cautioned that more long-term data was required before weight loss jabs could be widely recommended to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Professor Azeem Majeed, an expert in primary care and public health at Imperial College London, said the findings were “very encouraging”.

But he added: “I wouldn’t yet describe them as a ‘game changer’ because we would need additional data on a wider group of patients before the drug was endorsed by NICE for use in the NHS. 

“For example, we would need data on the longer-term acceptability of the drug (i.e. how many patients were willing to take it long-term), its cost-effectiveness (semaglutide is considerably more expensive than statins which are currently the main drug group used to reduce the risk of CVD), and more information on the safety and side effects of semaglutide in people who took it to reduce their risk of CVD.”

Global shortages of semaglutide are another challenge. Supply is expected to improve over time, which should lead to lower costs, however the drug is likely to remain “relatively expensive” compared to 6p-a-day statins, Prof Majeed said.

He said: “It’s understandable that people would want to look at possible drug treatments for obesity given how difficult it is to lose weight through lifestyle measures. 

“Semaglutide will be an option for some people with obesity, but the current high cost of the drug would limit its wider use in the UK’s NHS, as would supply problems.”

Ozempic and Wegovy cost the NHS nearly £107 million in 2022/23, making it the 11th most expensive prescription drug.

Professor Naveed Sattar, an expert in cardiometabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, said it would “take time to work out how best to deliver these drugs into the NHS efficiently and cost effectively”.

He added: “The demand for drugs that can help weight loss, especially semaglutide and soon tirzepatide, is enormous.

“These supply issues will resolve over time and it is hoped that in three to four years’ time, we will have another few drugs licensed and proven to be safe and beneficial to spread the load, so to speak. Competition may also lead to lower drug prices.

“We have to remember we did not have tools that can help people lose on average 1.5 to 5 stones until recently, with evidence of safety and benefit across a range of conditions, and thus many new clinical gains are now opening up.”


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