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A class of drugs sold by Novo Nordisk, primarily used as diabetes medication but which can also be taken as a weight loss treatment, is now under review in the UK after being linked to suicidal thoughts.

An exclusive Reuters report revealed that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is now looking into safety data on GLP-1 receptor agonists, including Ozempic (the active ingredient of which is semaglutide) and Saxenda (the active ingredient of which is liraglutide).

This drug class was originally developed as a treatment option for Type 2 diabetes, mimicking a gut hormone that suppresses appetite and promotes a feeling of being full.

The MHRA confirmed that it had received five reports of suspected adverse drug reactions in relation to semaglutide between 2020 and July 2023, while 12 suspected reactions involving liraglutide were received between 2010 and July 2023.

Similarly, the European Medicines Agency said back in July that it too has been investigating GLP-1 drugs after the health regulator in Iceland flagged up three cases where patients had experienced suicidal or self-harming thoughts. Furthermore, it is also investigating this class of drugs for thyroid cancer risks.

Chief safety officer with the MHRA Dr Alison Cave told the news source: “Patient safety is our top priority. We will carefully consider all available evidence and communicate any further advice to patients and healthcare professionals as appropriate.”

GLP-1 receptor agonists also recently hit the headlines because of a global shortage of the drug, which was in part down to a big rise in off-label prescriptions of semaglutide being issued for weight loss. This has caused issues for those with type 2 diabetes, as demand has outstripped supply – and it is unlikely that this will be resolved until 2024.

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