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High demand, low supplies for Novo's weight-loss drug launch in Germany

FILE PHOTO: Illustrations of Wegovy injector pens in Chicago

By Ludwig Burger and Maggie Fick

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Supplies of Novo Nordisk's popular weight-loss drug Wegovy are limited in Germany less than a month after its launch in Europe's largest drug market, major drug distributors and doctors told Reuters.

The volumes of the weekly injection that the Danish drugmaker has delivered to the country so far have fallen short of strong demand, the wholesalers said.

"Demand is by far exceeding the available volumes," a spokesperson for Noweda, which has almost a quarter of the German drug wholesale trade, told Reuters, adding the problem was nationwide.

Interviews with four wholesalers that account for three quarters of the German market, two doctors, a clinic and a pharmacy offer the first insights into Wegovy's rollout in Germany since its debut there at the end of July.

They also highlight the challenge for Novo as it seeks to expand in Europe while struggling to meet sky-high U.S. demand and spending billions boosting output.

In June, the company said breaking into new markets in Europe would be slower than initially planned. Earlier this month, it warned of continued periodic drug shortages across geographies.

Ahead of the German launch, doctors and patients told Reuters they anticipated high demand for the drug, with many patients prepared to take on the monthly cost of about 300 euros ($327) for the maintenance dose required after initial ramp-up.

"We have had a controlled and limited launch in Germany and been delivering to wholesalers continuously," a Novo spokesperson said in response to questions from Reuters, adding it had no influence over onward distribution to pharmacies.

The company reiterated a call for physicians to prescribe only in line with the approved use, which is for obese people with a body mass index of at least 30 or of at least 27 when a weight-related health problem is diagnosed.

Uninterrupted use is important for a sustained lowering of appetite and also because the drug's dosage needs to be stepped up over several months, following a schedule.

Munich-based obesity specialist Dr. Thomas Horbach said there was no Wegovy available in his area.

"Despite asking many different pharmacists about Wegovy, I did not find anyone who got the drug from any of their wholesalers," he told Reuters.

Ozempic, which is Novo's diabetes treatment and contains a smaller amount of the active ingredient in Wegovy, is also in short supply, the Noweda spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Sanacorp Pharmahandel, with an almost 20% market share, said orders from pharmacies for some dosages of Wegovy were "several times" higher than the amounts delivered.

Phoenix Pharmahandel, the country's largest drugs wholesaler, and smaller trading alliance Pharma Privat said they were not receiving the volumes needed to meet demand and were trying their best to distribute fairly.

The distributors, which act as go-betweens for drug companies and pharmacies, declined to give details of volumes.

Helios St. Elisabeth Klinik in the western city of Oberhausen, which runs an obesity centre, said that patients there managed to obtain the drug but needed to ask around and go beyond their usual pharmacies to find it.

DocMorris, a German mail-order pharmacy, said it did not have any Wegovy in stock.

Dr. Jodok Fink, a bariatric surgeon in the southwestern city of Freiburg, said his patients had no access to Wegovy.

"We prescribe Ozempic because it’s cheaper (than Wegovy) and because Wegovy is not available,” he said.

($1 = 0.9185 euros)

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt and Maggie Fick in London; Editing by Josephine Mason and Mark Potter)