Belgium seizes fake weight-loss drugs containing insulin

FILE PHOTO: Healthcare companies counter investor worries over Wegovy effect

By Patrick Wingrove

(Reuters) - Belgium’s drug regulator said it had seized counterfeit versions of semaglutide, the active ingredient in Novo Nordisk's popular obesity drug Wegovy, in which the injector pens contained insulin.

The Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products told Reuters that this year it had detained nine mailed packages of GLP-1 medicines, the class of drugs that includes Wegovy and Novo's diabetes drug Ozempic, on the suspicion that they were fake.

It said two of those packages were found to contain drugs that had not been manufactured by Novo Nordisk or another GLP-1 drugmaker.

A lab analysis confirmed that one contained insulin, according to the agency, which is used to treat diabetes and can cause serious health issues such as hypoglycemia - dangerously low blood sugar - and seizures when not administered properly.

Several people were hospitalized in Austria after using suspected fake versions of Ozempic, health regulators there reported last week.

The country’s health safety regulator, BASG, said the patients had suffered side effects that indicated the product contained insulin instead of semaglutide, but did not say whether that had been confirmed through testing.

Britain on Thursday warned the public about buying potentially fake weight-loss pens claiming to be Ozempic or Novo Nordisk's older weight-loss drug Saxenda after reports of a "very small number" of hospitalizations.

Surging demand for Ozempic and other drugs that can be used for weight-loss has led to a shortage of those medicines and a spate of counterfeits.

A spokesperson for Australia's health regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, said the agency had identified 14 cases of counterfeit obesity drugs this year.

Belgium’s health minister said last week the country wanted to temporarily ban the use of Ozempic as a weight loss treatment for a few weeks or months to deal with a shortage of the medicine, which is approved to treat type 2 diabetes, the original use for GLP-1 drugs.

Law enforcement, anti-counterfeiting and public health officials have said they are opening inquiries into complaints of fake drugs, trolling e-commerce and social media for purchase offers or advertisements, and training customs officials on how to spot counterfeits to help stem the surge.

(Reporting by Patrick Wingrove in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)