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Ozempic: How a Diabetes Drug Became a Social Media Weight Loss Sensation

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How did Ozempic take Novo Nordisk to the next level making it the 12th most valuable company in the world?

Novo Nordisk, Danish pharmaceutical giant, has emerged as a leader in diabetes and obesity treatment with its blockbuster drugs Ozempic, Rybelsus, and Wegovy. The Danish pharmaceutical giant is already facing booming demand for Wegovy and its diabetes drug Ozempic with the company ramping up production to meet this surge while anticipating further sales growth as supply increases and Wegovy enters new markets.

Looking ahead, Novo Nordisk is developing next-generation treatments that combine semaglutide (the active ingredient in Wegovy and Ozempic) with other elements. This strategy aims to enhance weight loss benefits and potentially address other health areas.

We can see how 2023 marked a banner year for Novo Nordisk, with Ozempic and Wegovy fueling significant company growth. Just recently, positive news from the FDA further propelled the company's stock to record highs. This excitement has led Novo Nordisk to rank as one of the biggest companies in the world with a market capitalisation of $446.57 billion as of March 27, 2024.  Let's take a look at the company and how it has come so far.

What is Ozempic? 

Ozempic is a brand name for the drug semaglutide, which is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist. A GLP-1 receptor agonist, is a type of medication that helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. It is a prescription medication used to treat type 2 diabetes in adults. It is also approved to reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with type 2 diabetes and known heart disease.

How does Ozempic work and what are the risks?

Ozempic works by mimicking the effects of GLP-1, which is a natural hormone that helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. GLP-1 works in a number of ways, such as stimulating the release of insulin from the pancreas, suppressing the release of glucagon from the pancreas and slowing down the emptying of the stomach. 

Although recently Ozempic has come to light for its weight loss purposes, ozempic is not a weight loss medication. The drug reduces your appetite so you eat less, slowing down the movement of food in your gut meaning you stay full for longer.

Many celebrities have openly spoken about taking Ozempic, with some also highlighting the severe side effects the medication can cause. In a recent interview Hollywood actor Stepher Fry said: “The first week or so, I was thinking, ‘This is astonishing. Not only do I not want to eat, I don’t want any alcohol of any kind. This is going to be brilliant,’ however he explained he was forced to come off the drug due to the fact it made him feel “sicker and sicker”. 

He continued by saying:“I was literally throwing up four, five times a day and I thought, ‘I can’t do this.’”

In the same way many people have spoken out about similar side effects and according to the FDA, in rare cases, some people have suffered from gastroparesis, or paralysed stomach, after taking the popular weight loss drug. People should also note that those who discontinue taking the medication may regain the weight lost. 

Understanding potential side effects is key! Always read the full list and talk to your doctor before taking any medication.

So how did Ozempic take the internet by storm? Social media is flooded with dramatic weight loss transformations linked to the use of Ozempic. The medication has become a major talking point in Hollywood, with celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Amy Schumer, Sharon Osbourne, and Elon Musk all going public about their use of the medication.

Ozempic weight loss experiences are also trending on social media, with hashtags like #ozempic and #ozempicweightloss exploding in popularity. This online buzz has led to a surge in interest, with Google searches for 'Ozempic' in the US, rising up by a staggering 436% over the past five years.

Some national health associations have recently linked the Ozempic shortage to a surge in demand. In response, they advised pharmacists to restrict dispensing, prioritising patients with diabetes. There are concerns for diabetics who rely on Ozempic, highlighting the anxiety this shortage creates for those who need it for managing their condition. 

Many doctors have emphasised the fact that these drugs were not designed for normal-weight people who want to get down to be super thin as the drug has not been systematically tested in people with lower body weights. 

What is Wegovy?

Wegovy, in a similar way as Ozempic, is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist delivered via a prefilled pen, and is a prescription medication used for weight management in certain individuals. It should be noted that Ozempic has a smaller dose of semaglutide than Wegovy.

Novo Nordisk's Wegovy saw explosive sales growth in the U.S. in 2023, surging a staggering 393%.This momentum is expected to continue following the FDA's recent approval for an expanded use of Wegovy. The drug, previously indicated for weight loss, can now also be prescribed to patients with cardiovascular disease, significantly increasing Novo Nordisk's target patient pool. This broader application opens Wegovy to a wider range of individuals at risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Both Ozempic and Wegovy are weekly injectable medications for the stomach, thigh, or arm.

Novo Nordisk's stock saw new highs following unveiling promising data for Amycretin, a potential new obesity drug. Early trials suggest it could be even more effective than their current blockbuster treatment, Wegovy.

The early trials showcased that Amycretin could lead to an average weight loss of 13% after 12 weeks, compared to just 6% with Wegovy in a similar study. This significant difference fueled investor excitement, pushing shares up by as much as 7.5%.

What is Rybelsus? 

Rybelsus is a prescription medication by Novo Nordisk used to improve blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes. In the same way as the two drugs above, it works by mimicking a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). GLP-1 helps regulate blood sugar levels in several ways. It essentially increases insulin production when blood sugar is high and reduces glucagon release, which helps keep blood sugar levels in check. Studies have shown that Rybelsus may also help lower the risk of major cardiovascular events like heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular death in some patients with type 2 diabetes and existing heart disease.

Rybelsus is taken by mouth as a tablet, once daily eliminating the need for injections. It is recommended Rybelsus is used alongside diet and exercise to improve blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes.

Both Rybelsus and Ozempic are FDA-approved to help manage blood sugar in adults. 

Novo Nordisk History

Novo Nordisk's history is rooted in the fight against diabetes, dating back to the 1920s in Denmark. Here's a breakdown of some key milestones:

  • Early 1920s: Two separate Danish companies emerge – Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium and Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium – focusing on producing insulin, a revolutionary new treatment for diabetes discovered by Canadian researchers.
  • 1923: Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium is founded by August Krogh, a Nobel Prize-winning physiologist, along with a physician and a pharmacist. Their goal was to make insulin readily available in Scandinavia.
  • 1926: Nordisk establishes the Nordisk Insulin Foundation to support diabetes research and patient care.
  • 1932: The Steno Memorial Hospital, dedicated to diabetes treatment and research, is founded by Nordisk.
  • 1946: Nordisk develops a longer-acting insulin formulation called neutral protamine Hagedorn (NPH).
  • 1951: Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium establishes its own foundation, the Novo Foundation.
  • 1982: Novo Nordisk establishes a presence in the United States.
  • 1989: A merger between Nordisk Gentofte A/S (Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium) and Novo Industri A/S (Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium) creates Novo Nordisk A/S, solidifying its position as the world's leading insulin producer. The Novo Nordisk Foundation is also formed by merging the two previous foundations.

Since then Novo Nordisk has expanded its focus beyond diabetes, developing treatments for obesity, haemophilia, growth hormone deficiencies, and rare endocrine disorders. They've also become a global leader with a presence in over 170 countries. They remain committed to scientific advancements, expanding access to medications, and preventing and ultimately curing the diseases they fight.

Obesity levels in the world and the weight loss medication frenzy 

The prevalence of adult obesity is on the rise in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 22 states had obesity rates of 35% or higher in 2022, a significant increase from 19 states in 2021. Notably, just ten years ago, no state had such a high prevalence.

In England, according to the Obesity Profile: short statistical commentary May 2023 data from the 2021-2022 period shows a concerning trend: nearly 26% (25.9%) of English adults over 18 are classified as obese. This represents a slight increase from the previous year (25.2%). While obesity rates are similar between men (25.8%) and women (26.1%), there's a significant variation by age. Adults aged 45-74 have a higher prevalence of obesity compared to the national average.

These findings highlight the growing challenge of obesity in England and underscore the need for effective public health interventions to promote healthy lifestyles.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) worldwide, a staggering 2.5 billion adults (18+) were overweight in 2022, with over 890 million classified as obese. This translates to nearly half (43%) of adults being overweight, a significant rise from 25% in 1990. The prevalence of obesity itself has more than doubled in that timeframe, affecting roughly 16% of adults globally in 2022.

The picture is equally concerning for younger generations. Over 390 million children and adolescents (aged 5-19) were overweight in 2022, a dramatic increase from just 8% in 1990 (20% in 2022). This rise affects both boys and girls, with 19% and 21% prevalence of overweight (including obesity) respectively in 2022.

This data paints a clear picture: overweight and obesity are major public health issues with a growing global impact. Effective interventions are crucial to address this concerning trend and promote healthier lifestyles for all age groups.

People should note that being overweight is a condition of excessive fat deposits whereas obesity is a chronic complex disease defined by excessive fat deposits that can impair health. 

Obesity is linked to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Excess weight can strain your joints and bones, leading to pain and difficulty with movement. Obesity can also affect fertility and pregnancy outcomes for both men and women.

The primary tool for diagnosing overweight and obesity is BMI. It's calculated using weight and height and provides a general indicator of body fat. While BMI is a helpful starting point, waist circumference can provide additional insights. Excess fat around the waist is linked to a higher risk of health problems. BMI categories for defining overweight and obesity vary depending on age and gender, particularly for infants, children, and adolescents.

What causes obesity?

While weight gain often stems from an imbalance between calories consumed and burned, obesity is a more intricate issue. In most cases, it's a multifactorial disease, meaning several factors contribute to its development. 

Our surroundings can significantly influence obesity risk. Limited access to healthy and affordable food, lack of safe spaces for physical activity, and weak regulations promoting healthy choices all contribute to an obesogenic environment.

Certain behaviours like dietary choices and physical activity levels significantly impact weight management.

In some cases, specific genes can increase susceptibility to obesity. However, for most people, genetic predisposition interacts with other factors. Certain medications, underlying diseases, and even some medical procedures can contribute to weight gain.

In addition to the above, a single major factor may be the culprit, such as medication side effects or a genetic condition.

These factors often work together to create a "perfect storm" that promotes obesity. For example, a person with a genetic predisposition to obesity living in an environment with limited healthy food options and few opportunities for exercise is at a higher risk.

The healthcare system also plays a role. If weight gain isn't identified and addressed early on, it can be harder to manage later.

What can be done to prevent obesity?

Policies aimed at promoting healthy eating habits in schools, workplaces, and communities can play a significant role in preventing obesity. This can include regulations on food labelling, availability of healthy options, and restrictions on marketing unhealthy foods to children.

Public health campaigns can raise awareness about the dangers of obesity and promote healthy lifestyle choices.

For years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has prioritised tackling the global obesity crisis.

WHO member states endorsed the Global Nutrition Targets, aiming to stop childhood overweight from rising, and the NCD target to halt the increase of diabetes and obesity by 2025. These targets acknowledge the complex issue of "double burden of malnutrition," where both undernutrition and overnutrition coexist.

In 2022, at the 75th World Health Assembly, member states took a significant step. They adopted new recommendations for preventing and managing obesity and endorsed the WHO Acceleration Plan to STOP Obesity.

This plan has had a major impact. It has:

  • Shaped the political landscape to encourage lasting change.
  • Provided a platform to refine, streamline, and prioritise policies.
  • Supported implementation efforts in individual countries.
  • Driven measurable progress and strengthened accountability on both national and global levels.

Final thoughts

Novo Nordisk's investment in semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, has paid off handsomely. Ozempic is a key driver of the company's revenue, and with ongoing trials, it's likely to remain a major product for years to come. The drug represents a significant innovation in diabetes treatment. While it demonstrates promise in various areas, it is vital to note that Ozempic may cause side effects, and patients should consult with their doctor to determine if it's the right medication.

Written by

Eleana Ntagia

This content has been created by XTB S.A. This service is provided by XTB S.A., with its registered office in Warsaw, at Prosta 67, 00-838 Warsaw, Poland, entered in the register of entrepreneurs of the National Court Register (Krajowy Rejestr Sądowy) conducted by District Court for the Capital City of Warsaw, XII Commercial Division of the National Court Register under KRS number 0000217580, REGON number 015803782 and Tax Identification Number (NIP) 527-24-43-955, with the fully paid up share capital in the amount of PLN 5.869.181,75. XTB S.A. conducts brokerage activities on the basis of the license granted by Polish Securities and Exchange Commission on 8th November 2005 No. DDM-M-4021-57-1/2005 and is supervised by Polish Supervision Authority.

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