By Maggie Fick and Ludwig Burger
(Reuters) – Novo Nordisk on Thursday warned of a surge in counterfeit versions of its weight-loss drug Wegovy and diabetes drug Ozempic offered online as illegal traders seek to take advantage of their huge popularity, putting users’ health at risk.
“Novo Nordisk has seen a significant increase in illegal online sales,” the company said in a statement, referring to products that contain the active ingredient semaglutide.
“Every counterfeit case we are made aware of is looked into and reported to the authorities according to the applicable regulations.”
The Danish drugmaker said that in some cases it was working with “specialized firms to identify the perpetrators of these crimes”, without naming the countries where it was doing so.
It also said it was working with a third party specialized in monitoring and taking down illegal online offers.
Novo scaled up this work in 2023 “to ensure an even broader reach”, it said, declining to name the company it was working with.
The statement from Novo, earlier reported by Danish publication Finans, included the first detailed comments from the group on the counterfeit issue since a statement in mid-June about fake Ozempic pens found at a retail pharmacy in the U.S.
The warning comes after Germany’s federal drug regulator on Wednesday urged pharmacies and drug distributors to be vigilant, after wholesale batches of fake Ozempic were found.
In a further sign of illicit activity taking advantage of the hype around weight-loss drugs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday told two online vendors to stop selling unapproved versions of Novo and Eli Lilly drugs.
Amid a global obesity crisis, Novo became Europe’s most valuable company last month on soaring profits for Wegovy and Ozempic.
Demand is exceeding supply for the drugs in the U.S., Germany and Britain, leading Novo to restrict supplies of certain doses of Wegovy to the U.S. market because it does not want new patients to begin treatment and be forced to stop due to short supply.
In Britain in July, before Wegovy had launched in the country, the government declared Ozempic to be in shortage along with all other drugs from the GLP-1 receptor agonist class, citing soaring demand and off-label use of the drugs for weight loss.
Though only Wegovy is approved for obesity, the fact that Ozempic for diabetes also leads to dramatic weight loss has led people in the U.S. and Europe to use the drug “off-label”, meaning not for its approved use.
(Editing by Jan Harvey)