May 26, 2024

Sales of a new class of weight loss drugs known as GLP-1s have transformed Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk into the most valuable pharmaceutical companies in the world. Eli Lilly is now the world’s ninth largest company by market capitalization at $777 billion. But the high demand has also made it hard for some patients to have their prescriptions filled.

“Due to the unprecedented demand for these medicines, some patients may experience difficulty when trying to fill their prescription at their pharmacy,” an Eli Lilly spokesperson told Bloomberg on Thursday. Eli Lilly did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Quartz.

This month, the pharma company selected Amazon Pharmacy as a third-party delivery option for its direct-to-consumer service LillyDirect, which it launched earlier this year to get ahead of supply issues.

“Many patients report driving to five, six, seven pharmacies to find the medicine they need,” Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks told investors during an earnings call in February. He added, that LillyDirect “simplifies the process.”

Despite this partnership, an Amazon spokesperson told Bloobmerg that there is a “nationwide shortage’ of weight loss drugs, including Eli Lilly’s Zepbound. Most doses of the drug are currently unavailable on Amazon’s website.

RiteAid is also dealing with limited supplies of the medication. “The demand for Zepbound has created some sporadic supply constraints,” a RiteAid spokesperson confirmed to Quartz in an emailed statement. “We continue to communicate and work with our suppliers to mitigate where possible.”

Novo Nordisk’s supply-demand doldrums

Novo Nordisk has already been limiting starter doses of Wegovy to ensure there’s enough supply for patients already on the drug. But the problem is compounding: Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said this month that the gap between demand for weight loss drugs and the supply is significant enough to take years to close.

He pointed out that there are more 100 million people with obesity in the U.S. alone, and Novo Nordisk currently only serves a small population of that group, about 1 million. “It’ll take quite some years before the industry has scaled up supplies to be able to meet this very strong demand,” Jørgensen said.

Novo Nordisk announced in February that it has acquired three facilities from its company’s largest shareholder, Novo Holdings, for $11 billion in an effort to address a shortage of Wegovy. The deal was made in connection with Novo Holdings’s acquisition of the drug manufacturing company Catalent. Novo Nordisk said in a statement that the acquisition will increase the company’s production capacity from 2026 and onwards.

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