By Rishika Sadam
HYDERABAD, India (Reuters) – Indian online marketplace IndiaMART has been removing unauthorized listings of Novo Nordisk’s blockbuster weight-loss drug Wegovy after holding talks with the Danish drugmaker in early October, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The drugmaker’s India legal team held discussions with IndiaMART’s top executives to develop a “framework” for regularly alerting the online marketplace about listings by counterfeiters in an effort to curtail illegal sales, the source said on condition of anonymity.
Novo Nordisk is the sole patent holder of semaglutide, the active ingredient in both Wegovy and Novo’s diabetes drug Ozempic, which are not yet approved for sale in India. A spokesman for Novo India did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.
“Dozens of such listings have been removed from the platform after Novo reached out to IndiaMART saying the sellers do not hold the trademark for Wegovy,” the source said without providing a specific number.
Extraordinary demand for Novo’s weight-loss drugs has been fueling a global surge in counterfeit versions.
Novo’s global spokesperson said the drugmaker regularly looks for suspicious or illegal online sales and “where possible” engages with these platforms on a protocol to ensure they work to prevent or respond to such illegal offers. The company did not comment on specific efforts in India.
In late September, Novo Nordisk’s India Managing Director Vikrant Shrotriya told Reuters the illegal sellers were “difficult to trace.”
IndiaMART, one of India’s top online marketplaces, allows dealers to sell on its website after a nominal background check and says it has minimal control over what is advertised and sold.
A leading U.S. government agency named IndiaMART on its ‘Notorious Markets’ list for 2022, highlighting how counterfeit goods on the marketplace remained “a serious concern”.
A Reuters review found dozens of listings featuring Wegovy, Ozempic and claims of copies of semaglutide by a Bangladesh-based firm on IndiaMART between September and November. While it has taken many of them down, some remain on the website.
ROOM FOR IMPORT
Novo introduced Wegovy in the U.S. in 2021 and has since launched the drug in several European markets, but has struggled to meet soaring demand fueled by a global obesity crisis. The once-weekly injection has been shown in clinical trials to help a patient lose up to 15% of their body weight.
Wegovy, Ozempic and Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro and Zepbound belong to a class of therapies known as GLP-1 receptor agonists originally developed to control blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes. But they also slow digestion, helping patients feel full longer.
Indian law allows drugs approved in foreign countries to be imported and sold in the country after obtaining an import license from the drug regulator by the original drug manufacturer’s partner in India.
Novo aims to officially launch Wegovy in India in 2026 after securing regulatory approvals, Shrotriya has said.
Certain provisions of the law also allow drugs that have not been formally approved by the Indian drug regulator to be imported for individual use, provided patients make an appeal with valid prescriptions and proof of identity.
India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organization did not respond to Reuters’ requests seeking comment.
A box of legally imported Wegovy containing three injection pens costs around 1200 euros ($1,309) including shipping charges, according to Indian Pharma Network, a New Delhi-based private firm that helps with importing medicines.
On IndiaMART, a box containing four pens claiming to be Wegovy is being sold for 18,000 Indian rupees ($216.50) and higher.
Much like in the U.S. and elsewhere, Wegovy and Ozempic have made their way into India’s elite social circles and among celebrities. Many well-heeled Indians procure the drug through local suppliers or friends visiting from foreign cities, doctors and fitness experts have told local media.
“Such products automatically make it to gray market sale. There’s a craze for Wegovy among people after much hype from celebrities,” a Hyderabad-based bariatric surgeon said on condition of anonymity. “Only India’s affluent can afford to use it given the high price.”
($1 = 83.1400 Indian rupees)
($1 = 0.9164 euros)
(Reporting by Rishika Sadam in Hyderabad; Additional reporting by Maggie Fick in London; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Dhanya Skariachan and Bill Berkrot)