Weight-loss drug Wegovy available in Canada starting May 6

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

Novo Nordisk’s weekly injection is approved for weight loss among patients diagnosed with obesity.

Wegovy can 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 obesity is a serious medical condition and Wegovy is an important treatment option.

He says it’s not intended for “cosmetic” use.

Wegovy contains the same medication — semaglutide — as the diabetes drug Ozempic but at a higher dose.

“(Wegovy) adds to the tool box and the tool kit for all clinicians who are seeing many patients living with obesity,” said Sockalingam, who is the scientific director for Obesity Canada, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of people living with obesity.

It’s meant to be used in tandem with physical activity and nutrition, he said.

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

Health Canada approved Wegovy in November 2021 based on studies that “demonstrated a statistically significantly greater amount of weight loss in semaglutide-treated (patients) as compared to placebo-treated subjects,” according to the federal government’s website.

Doctors can prescribe it for patients with obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kilograms per square metre or greater.

They can also prescribe Wegovy to patients who are overweight with a BMI of 27 kilograms per square metre if they also have at least one weight-related medical condition. That could include hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia (an imbalance of lipids such as cholesterol or triglycerides) and obstructive sleep apnea.

Wegovy arrives after extensive marketing of Ozempic and a social media-driven surge in demand for off-label use of that drug for weight loss. Experts say it’s critical that prescribers, including family doctors, ensure Wegovy is only given to patients who meet specific criteria.

“Physicians are ultimately the gatekeepers of this, and hopefully there will be responsible prescribing for the medication,” said Dr. Ehud Ur, an endocrinologist in Vancouver.

Sockalingam stressed that when it comes to prescribing Wegovy, “we want to make sure we’re very precise, that we’re not talking about … cosmetic or physical appearance.”

“This is a medical treatment for a medical condition.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2024.

Canadian Press health coverage receives support through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content.

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