Weight-loss drugs probed over reports of suicidal thoughts

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Novo Nordisk’s weight-loss medications are under investigation by the European Union’s drugs regulator after a small number of reports of suicidal risks were referred to the watchdog.

The European Medicines Agency is looking at adverse events noted by the Icelandic Medicines Agency, including two cases of suicidal thoughts linked to the drugs Saxenda and Ozempic, the EMA said in a statement Monday. One additional case relating to thoughts of self-injury has been raised in connection with Saxenda.

The EMA did not report any cases of suicide, and suicidal behavior is not currently listed as a side effect in the E.U. product information of these medicines.

The EMA said it would consider whether its review should be extended to other drugs in the same class, known as GLP-1 receptor agonists. Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co.’s Mounjaro is among them, and other companies including Amgen and Pfizer are developing similar products.

Novo’s shares fell as much as 2.3% in Copenhagen. Lilly’s were little changed at the New York market open.

The agency said it’s investigating the possible side effects in relation to patients who have used medicines containing the active ingredients semaglutide or liraglutide for weight loss. Novo’s latest hit weight-loss drug Wegovy also uses semaglutide.

“The popularity of these drugs brings added scrutiny to the class,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Michael Shah said in an e-mail. “No red flags on this front were raised across the late-stage trials, and these events are anecdotal.”

Novo has entered the limelight over the last two years after Wegovy and sister diabetes drug Ozempic were found to induce significant weight loss, with celebrities and high-profile business personalities openly discussing their use of them. The popularity of the medicines has led to supply shortages and delays in launching the drugs in new markets.

The EMA also recently asked Novo for more data on the potential link between its GLP-1 hormone and thyroid cancer. In Wegovy’s safety information, the medication lists a potential risk of thyroid cancer, and people with a family history of certain serious conditions are advised not to take it. Patients may also experience inflammation of the pancreas or kidney injury.

Novo said in a statement that patient safety is a “top priority” and it takes all reports of adverse events very seriously.

“GLP-1 receptor agonists have been used to treat type 2 diabetes for more than 15 years and for treatment of obesity for eight years, including Novo products such as semaglutide and liraglutide that have been on the market for more than 10 years,” a spokesperson said.

Saxenda, which contains liraglutide, is a weight-loss medication that was first approved for use in 2014. Approved to treat type 2 diabetes, Ozempic contains semaglutide, the same active ingredient in Wegovy, which was cleared in 2021.

Wegovy is currently available in the U.S., Denmark and Norway and is set to go on the market in Germany this month. While the drug is not yet sold in the U.K., the government announced last month it was looking at making it more widely available than originally planned with a pilot program aimed at expanding weight-loss services.

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One thought on “Weight-loss drugs probed over reports of suicidal thoughts

  1. I know is is anecdotal evidence, which I heavily discount, but thought I’d share a story for those taking these meds: I’m T2 diabetic and had been using Trulicity for several months. Didn’t seem to be doing the trick so my endocrinologist changed me to Ozempic two months ago. About 2 weeks in, I was feeling really lousy, and really out of sorts emotionally. After talking with some medical professionals, these asked if I had checked my blood sugar – I hadn’t. They said I may have been experiencing the effects of hypoglycemia, dangerously low blood sugar. I Googled it and it was a perfect match for the symptoms I had. I now am more aware of what to look out for, test my BGL twice a day and have been fine. If anyone else taking these meds is feeling unstable emotionally, look into this as a possible cause.

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