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From the lab to Hollywood: How Ozempic became a pharma star

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Apr 3, 2023 12:00:00 AM

If you watched this year’s Academy Awards, you might have noticed the mention of a name that didn’t belong to a celebrity or a movie title. The drug Ozempic was the subject of one of host Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes; rumor has it that a number of the stars in attendance are currently taking it to manage their weight.

Originally used to treat Type 2 diabetes and now known for also being a highly effective weight loss treatment, Ozempic has been a hit in Hollywood for a few years now. The demand for it has even contributed to a supply shortage.

But how did Ozempic and its sister drug, Wegovy, which was specifically created for weight loss purposes, become so popular? The answer provides some fascinating insights into how health and wellness information often spreads to the public - and sometimes goes viral.

In 2017, Ozempic was approved by the FDA as a medication that could help people with Type 2 diabetes control their insulin levels. Sometime after that, the medication began to generate buzz about something else: Many people taking Ozempic were finding that they felt full more easily and needed to eat less. The drug was helping them lose weight - and quite a lot of it, at that. Studies currently show that many people who take Ozempic can lose up to 15% of their body weight.

Something like this couldn’t stay quiet for long. Especially because, in addition to that benefit, Ozempic has relatively few side effects for most people. Soon, those in the know started using it, not for diabetes management, but for weight loss.

In 2021, Wegovy, Ozempic’s sister drug, got FDA approval. Both developed by Novo Nordisk, Wegovy and Ozempic are the same drug but in different doses. Wegovy is intended solely for weight loss purposes, but both drugs remained popular for weight loss. Like a favorite sibling, Ozempic remained the name on everyone’s lips.This same year, for instance, it was featured on a Dr. Oz show segment called "Could a Diabetes Drug Cure Obesity?"

Not to be outdone, Wegovy also got its share of the spotlight later that year, when Elon Musk tweeted his solution for weight loss: “fasting and Wegovy”.

Health advocate Arvind Sommi explains that because Wegovy was in short supply, many doctors started prescribing Ozempic to patients eager to benefit from these drugs’ weight loss potential.

That’s why Ozempic, not Wegovy, is probably the most well-known of the two, and why it’s rumored to be what Kim Kardashian used to lose 16 pounds in three weeks so that she could make a now-notorious appearance on the red carpet of the 2022 Met Gala wearing Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday” dress.

Meanwhile, even non-celebrities were getting onto the Ozempic bandwagon, and sharing their experiences on social media with hashtags like #MyOzempicJourney, #ozempicweightloss, and even, simply, #ozempic, which have racked up hundreds of millions of views.

And so, the drug’s popularity has skyrocketed. This NBC News article shares data from discount drug service SingleCare, which found that Ozempic prescriptions tripled from 2021 to 2022.

Maybe unsurprisingly, this led to an Ozempic shortage. That may not seem like such a big deal if you think of Ozempic as a weight loss drug, but it’s important to remember that it’s also a drug that many people with Type 2 diabetes NEED. In this case, the shortage is frightening.

Fortunately, on March 17, Novo Nordisk, the pharaceutical company behind Ozempic and Wegovy, announced that Ozempic is now back in supply in the US.

Wegovy is also available in US pharmacies again.

Interestingly, these drugs aren’t the only ones of their kind. Notably, Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro, which has been approved for managing insulin levels, is in clinical trials for weight loss. Fast Company’s Yasmin Gagne writes, “It’s likely only a matter of time before it, too, gets its 15 minutes of TikTok fame.”

It’s fascinating to examine what made Wegovy and Ozempic become such popular drugs. It certainly helps that they offer something that most of us find incredibly appealing: significant, fast weight loss with relatively few major side effects for most patients. But the way they’ve been tied to celebrities, promoted by a pop culture doctor, and linked to “moments”, like Kim Kardashian’s controversial Met Gala appearance, has also helped their popularity skyrocket. As has the drugs’ coverage on social media sites like TikTok.

This serves as an important reminder not to underestimate the power of celebrity culture and social media, and, if possible, to use it to spread awareness about your own product or cause…..

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