Counterfeit vials of obesity drug semaglutide found

Almost inevitably, counterfeiters have tried to cash in on the massive demand for Novo Nordisk’s obesity therapy semaglutide, sold by the Danish drugmaker as Wegovy.

Falsified versions of semaglutide, also sold as Ozempic as a treatment for diabetes, have been detected by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia.

The two products were labelled as Global Health Pharmaceuticals and Therapeutics’ Semaglutide 5mg vials and Peptides Lab’s Semaglutide 10mg vial, purporting to be generic versions of the diabetes brand, although there are no generics of the drug being lawfully manufactured. On testing, neither medicine was found to contain the active ingredient.

The counterfeits have been detected after Novo Nordisk has been struggling to meet massive demand for semaglutide. The company said last month it would temporarily reduce its production of the lower starting doses, to restrict new starts on the therapy and make sure that patients already on therapy will not face shortages.

The TGA said the knock-off products “serve as a warning to consumers to avoid buying semaglutide products from unverified online sellers.”

It said that anyone with imported products labelled as being semaglutide purchased from an overseas store or without a valid prescription should stop taking it immediately, take any leftover pills to a pharmacy for disposal, and discuss any concerns with their doctor.  

Demand for semaglutide has rocketed on the back of clinical data showing that the drug can help people lose around 15% of their body weight when combined with diet and exercise. Legitimate sales of the Wegovy brand more than tripled to $666 million in the first quarter of this year.

The recent TGA alert comes after it issued a separate warning in March warning the public not to fall for online scams offering semaglutide for sale, with criminals taking payments and supplying either another medicine or nothing at all.  

“In Australia, it is illegal to advertise prescription-only medicine to the public,” said the regulatory authority. “This means that if you see advertising for Ozempic or semaglutide, it is illegal and likely represents a counterfeit product or a scam.”

Nigerian incident

In May, the authorities in Nigeria also issued an alert warning that a batch of falsified Ozempic had been found in the supply chain, this time a falsified copy of the brand.

An investigation subsequently found that the products were relabelled pen injectors of Apidra Solostar, a Sanofi insulin product that could be very hazardous when used incorrectly.

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