WASHINGTON, D.C. – The FDA is investigating CBS’s 60 Minutes’ Jan. 1 news story about Novo Nordisk’s weight loss drug Wegovy as a result of a complaint filed by a nonprofit physicians group, arguing that the story was really an ad. This was confirmed by an FDA attorney who said that the agency is taking the complaint and investigation “very, very seriously.”
After receiving advertising payments from Novo Nordisk, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a 13-minute promotion of Wegovy, the Novo Nordisk weight loss drug, during its Jan. 1 broadcast, making it appear to be a news story. The segment violates the FDA’s “fair balance” requirement for ads, according to the complaint filed Jan. 19 by the Physicians Committee, a nonprofit public health advocacy organization with more than 17,000 doctor members.
Four “news” segments promoting Novo Nordisk drugs remain on CBS’s site. The Physicians Committee is asking that the stories be removed from the website and that a corrective ad explaining the side effects and risks associated with Wegovy be issued immediately and distributed similarly. The organization also asked 60 Minutes’ associate producer for the news segment, Ayesha Siddiqi, to consider sharing another perspective on weight loss strategies that work and interviewing a physician on this topic who has not been paid by a pharmaceutical company manufacturing weight loss medications.
“In recent years, drug companies have become increasingly adept at avoiding situations that would lead to FDA action,” explains Mark Kennedy, vice president for legal affairs for the Physicians Committee and author of the complaint. “The statute and regulations apply to manufacturers, packers, and distributors, and the FDA looks at advertisements by or on behalf of such parties. If the agency finds coordination between Novo Nordisk and 60 Minutes, the story could be considered an advertisement on behalf of Novo Nordisk, and that could prompt action against Novo Nordisk.”
The 60 Minutes program looked like a news story, but it was effectively a drug ad. There are FDA regulations on prescription drug advertising and disclosures of related risks and contraindications. Wegovy can cause digestive side effects and increased heart rate. Gallstones, pancreatitis, and serious drops in blood sugar have occurred, especially when Wegovy is combined with other diabetes drugs. There is also a risk for women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant.
Only experts paid by Novo Nordisk appeared in the CBS coverage. No alternative methods for weight loss were mentioned in the reporting. CBSNews.com posts four stories related to the drug, “Doctors explain how Wegovy and Ozempic work,” “A medication for obesity,” “Recognizing and treating obesity as a disease,” and “Wegovy and Ozempic shortages.”
The Jan. 19 complaint says that CBS’s coverage describes Wegovy as “highly effective,” “safe,” “impressive,” “fabulous,” and “robust” and uses themes that Novo Nordisk uses in its other ads. 60 Minutes’ reporting also ignores alternative approaches to and products for weight loss.
FDA regulations mandate that a television advertisement violates the regulatory “true statement” requirement if it “fails to present a fair balance between information relating to side effects and contraindications and information relating to effectiveness of the drug…”
Also concerning is that Novo Nordisk’s political action committee has paid more than $250,000 in campaign contributions to members of Congress in an effort to pass legislation to make the U.S. government pay for Wegovy, a $1,300-per-month-per-person proposition.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.