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Weight-loss drug shortages lead to Wegovy tracker from startup

Packets of the medication Wegovy move along a conveyor at the Novo Nordisk A/S production facilities in Hillerød, Denmark.  (Carsten Snejbjerg/Bloomberg)
By Madison Muller Washington Post

Shortages of weight-loss drugs like Wegovy have led telehealth startup Ro to create an online tracker that helps patients and doctors find supply.

The free tool allows users to report where they’ve located the medications in stock, creating a real-time picture of what supply looks like nationwide, according to Chief Executive Officer Zachariah Reitano. It also gives users an easier option to report outages to the US Food and Drug Administration.

“Our whole entire goal is to provide as many options to patients as possible,” Reitano said in an interview.

Ro’s tracker is the latest in the frenzy surrounding weight-loss drugs made by Novo Nordisk A/S and Eli Lilly & Co. The treatments have been a boon for telemedicine companies like Ro that offer prescriptions for the medications.

But soaring demand has also led to shortages that have left patients searching for their next dose and stymied others from starting treatment. While drugmakers race to boost output, online startups are bridging the gap by offering copycat versions at a fraction of the price.

For Ro, which has been valued at $7 billion, the tracker is a way to connect with potential customers. It started offering a treatment with the same active ingredient as Novo’s Wegovy for $299 this year after it became increasingly difficult to get the name-brand medication for patients.

The tracking tool also will help Ro’s business of prescribing the name-brand weight-loss shots. When shortages of Novo’s Wegovy were especially bad last year, Ro providers made roughly 40,000 to 50,000 calls to pharmacies on behalf of patients, Reitano said. He wants the tracker to make it easier for patients to find where the name-brand medications are in stock.

US pharmacies don’t publicly report drug inventory, meaning the onus of finding medications is often left to the public. Some patients have told Bloomberg that they’ve called dozens of pharmacies to find Lilly’s Mounjaro and Zepbound. Others have driven hours to pick up a prescription.

It’s forced patients to crowdsource information about which pharmacies have the drugs in stock. On Reddit, Facebook and TikTok, users are sharing tips on where they’ve been able to get prescriptions filled.

Reitano said that this inspired the idea to launch a tracker where information on the shortages could be consolidated in one place.

“This community has often been diminished and stigmatized against and that has bonded them together,” Reitano said. “They do genuinely want to help one another navigate this process.”