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Wegovy: DH to consider pharmacy role in £40m two-year obesity pilot

The government will launch a £40-million two-year obesity pilot that could see community pharmacies dispense semaglutide drug Wegovy, it has said.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) this week (June 7) announced that a two-year pilot backed by “up to” £40m will “explore ways to make obesity drugs accessible to patients outside of hospital settings”.

It comes as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended type 2 diabetes medicine semaglutide – known as Wegovy - for adults with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of a minimum of 35 and one weight-related health condition such as diabetes or hypertension in March.

Read more: 'Capacity constraints': Just one pharmacy health campaign agreed for this year

NICE advised that Wegovy should only be available via specialist weight management services, which are largely hospital based, meaning that “only around 35,000 people would have access” to it “when tens of thousands more could be eligible”, the DH said.

It added that the new pilot will look at how “approved” drugs can be “made safely available to more people by expanding specialist weight management services” outside of hospitals.

Read more: What would ditching anti-obesity measures mean for pharmacy weight-loss services?

This includes analysing how GPs could “safely” prescribe these drugs and how the NHS can “provide support in the community and digitally” – with the aim to “tackle obesity and cut NHS waiting lists”, it said.

However, it remains unclear what the role of community pharmacies would be, including whether they would dispense the drugs under the pilot.

 

Potential community pharmacy role

 

The DH told C+D yesterday (June 8) that NHS England (NHSE) and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) will work with stakeholders including in primary care to design the pilot, including considering the potential role of community pharmacy.

It added that the locations of the pilot are still to be determined and that it will launch as close as possible to when the treatments themselves launch in the UK.

Read more: 'The obesity epidemic shows no signs of slowing – but pharmacy can help'

Wegovy (semaglutide 2.4mg) is not currently available in the UK, according to its manufacturer Novo Nordisk.

The manufacturer has not yet confirmed a launch date for the medication in the UK, it told C+D yesterday, but it said that it is working to make Wegovy available in the UK as soon as possible.

Other drugs are also currently under consideration in clinical trials, according to the DH.

Read more: Sector calls for key role in government's obesity strategy

It said that NICE is also considering the potential NHS use of another drug called Tirzepatide – which is currently licenced to treat diabetes – if it receives a license for weight loss in the coming months.

And it added that NHSE is already working to make this new class of treatment available to patients “through established specialist weight management services, subject to negotiating a secure long-term supply of the products at prices that represent value for money taxpayers”.

According to the DH, the “newest weight loss drugs can help adults living with obesity lose up to 15% of their body weight when prescribed alongside diet, physical activity and behavioural support”.

 

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