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  • 18 Jun, 2024

Weight-loss medications are emerging as a lucrative industry in China.

Weight-loss medications are emerging as a lucrative industry in China.

Amidst the surge in demand for Ozempic, Chinese pharmaceutical firms are in a race to introduce their own weight-loss medications.

In Taipei, Taiwan, the prominence of Ozempic in China is undeniable.

Last year, Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical giant, saw its sales of the diabetes drug in China soar, nearly doubling to nearly $700 million, constituting 5 percent of Ozempic’s global sales.

While Ozempic was initially approved in China for diabetes treatment in 2021, it's the presence of semaglutide, its anti-obesity component, that has sparked interest, earning it the nickname "internet celebrity weight-loss drug" among many Chinese.

Chinese female influencers and vloggers have actively promoted Ozempic on social media platforms, which have also birthed various "beauty challenges," predominantly featuring thinness.

“Thinness” remains the dominant beauty standard for women in China, driving many to extreme measures, noted Pan Wang, a senior lecturer at Australia’s University of New South Wales.

The demand for Ozempic reflects the widespread desire for weight loss in China, where obesity rates are high, and societal pressure to conform to beauty ideals is intense.

Pharmaceutical companies are capitalizing on this demand. Novo Nordisk has sought regulatory approval in China to expand Ozempic's usage, particularly targeting weight loss. Additionally, Eli Lilly's Tirzepatide and Hangzhou Jiuyuan Gene Engineering's homegrown rival to Ozempic are poised to enter the market.

However, the surge in demand has led to supply shortages, with Eli Lilly anticipating demand to outstrip supply in 2024. Counterfeit versions of semaglutide products have flooded the market, exacerbating the situation.

State intervention and regulation are expected to shape the future of the weight-loss drug market in China. While competition among suppliers may not be a significant hurdle, capacity limitations remain a challenge.

The Chinese authorities have already intervened to curb off-label use and unauthorized sales of weight-loss drugs. The removal of thousands of social media posts and police crackdowns on unregulated products reflect increased scrutiny.

As more drugs enter the market, state involvement is likely to intensify. Western dominance in the sector may face challenges as Chinese companies vie for market share, prompting concerns about fair competition and intellectual property rights.

The ongoing patent dispute between Novo Nordisk and Huadong Medicine underscores the complexities of the Chinese market and the balancing act between domestic and foreign interests.

China's approach to the weight-loss drug market will be a litmus test of its commitment to openness and fairness in business, with implications for both domestic and foreign pharmaceutical firms.