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Zepbound Shortage Has No Immediate End in Sight, Eli Lilly Says

In recent months, the weight loss drug market has been shaken by significant shortages, especially with high-demand medications like Eli Lilly’s Zepbound and Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy. These drugs, known for their effectiveness in treating obesity and associated conditions such as sleep apnea, have become vital for many. Yet, as supplies dwindle, patients and healthcare providers face critical challenges. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss the ongoing issues surrounding these shortages, explore their reasons, examine their impact on patients, and discuss the broader implications for those desperately seeking these treatments. We’ll also hear from medical professionals and patients alike, giving us a comprehensive view of the current landscape and what might lie ahead.

What’s Causing the Shortage?

Let’s examine the reasons behind this unexpected shortfall of Eli Lilly’s latest weight loss drug. The FDA had given Zepbound the green light last November, positioning it as a direct competitor to the well-established Wegovy by Novo Nordisk. But the enthusiasm quickly hit a roadblock.

By April, Zepbound was in short supply, a surprising twist given that Lilly’s CEO, Dave Ricks, had confidently stated to NBC News that there wouldn’t be any supply issues. Yet, here we are, with almost every dosage of Zepbound marked as having “limited availability” through the end of June, according to the FDA’s official website.

The core of the problem? Overwhelming demand. Zepbound, which is essentially a rebranded version of Lilly’s diabetes medication Mounjaro, wasn’t able to meet the dual demands of diabetes and weight loss communities. Both drugs share the same active ingredient, tirzepatide, and now, both are in short supply.

Rhonda Pacheco, Lilly’s group vice president for diabetes and obesity, explains, “For the near term, we are facing limited availability, which may cause delays for various doses of both Mounjaro Pen and Zepbound. We’re pushing hard every day to boost our production capabilities to get these medications to patients as soon as possible.”

The big question is: When will things get back to normal? While it’s still up in the air, Lilly is optimistic about enhancing their manufacturing capacity. They’re planning to open a new plant in Concord, North Carolina, by year’s end. This facility will focus on producing Zepbound, Mounjaro, and another diabetes drug, Trulicity. However, specifics on the expected output remain under wraps. Edgardo Hernandez, the head of global manufacturing at Lilly, hints that products from the new plant might start reaching pharmacy shelves “sometime next year.”

How Are Patients Coping with the Shortage?

The shortage of Zepbound and Mounjaro pens is more than just an inconvenience; it’s significantly affecting people’s lives. Take Amanda Cella, a 37-year-old from South Jersey, for example. After being prescribed Zepbound in February, she’s now in a desperate race to find a pharmacy that still has her medication. Despite her best efforts, calling every Walmart in New Jersey and various local and hospital pharmacies across New Jersey and Philadelphia, she’s come up empty.

Amanda shared that although Zepbound is listed on Lilly’s telehealth platform, LillyDirect, it’s backordered with no clear shipping date. With only a few weeks’ supply left Amanda is considering a last resort—turning to a compound pharmacy. This option, however, carries its own risks, like potential incorrect dosing or contamination.

The situation is similarly grim for other patients. Dr. Christopher McGowan, a gastroenterologist who operates a weight loss clinic in Cary, North Carolina, highlighted the broader impact of such shortages. He explained that patients missing more than two weeks of their medication might need to restart treatment from the lowest dose to adjust to the side effects again. This reset can be “immensely disruptive” and “demoralizing,” especially for those who have successfully lost weight. Moreover, abruptly stopping a weight loss drug like Mounjaro or Zepbound can lead to immediate weight gain. Dr. McGowan noted that many patients report increased hunger after missing just a few doses.

Debbie Foley, a 56-year-old from Los Angeles, is facing a similar struggle. After two months of not being able to get her usual dose of Mounjaro, which she uses for both diabetes and weight loss, Debbie’s hunger levels have risen, making her situation increasingly difficult. She expressed her frustration plainly: “It’s been a great drug, and I know everybody wants it. But it’s so hard to hear them say they can’t make it fast enough.”

What Should Patients Expect Moving Forward?

Eli Lilly is taking a different approach with Zepbound compared to how other companies have handled similar situations. Instead of restricting new patients to preserve supplies for those already on the drug—as Novo Nordisk did with Wegovy during its shortage—Lilly is keeping the door open for new patients to start treatment. Rhonda Pacheco, from Lilly, believes that decisions on starting or continuing treatment should be made by the patients and their doctors.

Rhonda advises both patients and doctors to “be aware and be prepared” when considering starting a treatment like Mounjaro or Zepbound, especially given the current limited supply. To help manage expectations, Lilly has set up a website where patients and healthcare providers can check the availability of the drug. Despite these measures, the shortage has forced some doctors to find alternative medications for their patients. 

What’s the Latest on Weight Loss Drugs?

How Mounjaro works, as well as other weight loss medications like Eli Lilly’s Zepbound and Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy, have been game-changers for many, but getting a hold of these drugs has become increasingly difficult. Recently, Eli Lilly reported that Zepbound not only aids in weight loss but also helps reduce sleep apnea. However, many patients still struggle to find it in stock, highlighting a persistent supply issue.

Dr. Scott Butsch, director of obesity medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, shares that some of his patients unable to find Zepbound have had to switch to alternatives like Wegovy. Transitioning between these medications isn’t governed by strict rules. The approach varies according to Dr. Butsch, who is also involved in a clinical trial for another Lilly weight loss drug. Some doctors gradually taper one drug before starting another, while others may switch immediately. How patients respond to these changes can vary significantly—some notice fewer side effects, while others may feel worse.

The situation is clearly complex and deeply personal. For instance, Kathryn Davies, a 38-year-old patient at a North Carolina weight loss clinic, switched from Wegovy to Zepbound last year. She found that Zepbound was far more effective for her. However, a recent shortage led her pharmacy to run out of supplies, leaving her uncertain about when she could continue her treatment. Kathryn describes the experience as disorienting, especially after years of searching for an effective solution.

Conclusion

As we work through the drug shortages in the weight loss medication market, everyone involved needs to be patient, stay informed, and be ready for changes. Not knowing if they can get their medications is really tough for many patients like Kathryn Davies. Doctors and other health providers are doing their best, sometimes switching treatments to cope with these shortages. 
Companies like Eli Lilly are working hard to make more medications and get them to where they’re needed. It’s a challenging situation, but everyone is trying their best to make sure patients get the care they need. For those looking to find specific treatments, such as the ability to buy Mounjaro online in Canada, it’s important to stay connected with healthcare providers and reputable sources that can guide proper and safe medication practices.

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