Over the years, scientists have worked hard to develop medications that help people lose weight safely. In 1984, a significant breakthrough came from an unexpected place. Dr. Drucker discovered a hormone from a lizard that would eventually lead to the development of Ozempic. Initially aimed at treating Type 2 diabetes, this discovery opened a new path in the battle against obesity.

Recognizing the significance of Dr. Drucker’s work, Novo Nordisk took the initiative to develop and market the drug further. Their efforts transformed Ozempic from a promising treatment into a global sensation, boosting Novo Nordisk to a market value of $500 billion. Novo Nordisk’s win highlights how much people need good weight loss options, changing the game for treating obesity and diabetes.

In this article, you will learn how Ozempic was discovered and how this medication emerged from scientific curiosity to become a cornerstone in treating diabetes and obesity.

Daniel Drucker, a Canadian endocrinologist from the University of Toronto, is a prominent figure in diabetes research. His work has been instrumental in understanding the hormonal mechanisms that influence diabetes and obesity, leading to significant advancements in treatment options for these conditions.

After completing his medical training, he researched the gut’s role in regulating blood sugar levels and how it affects diabetes. His dedication to understanding the underlying mechanisms of metabolic diseases led him to explore the potential of certain gut hormones in managing diabetes, resulting in groundbreaking discoveries.

His discovery of GLP-1 (Glucagon-Like Peptide-1) and it’s potential in diabetes treatment culminated in his research on gut hormones. Drucker’s experiments demonstrated that GLP-1 plays a crucial role in enhancing insulin secretion, inhibiting glucagon release, and slowing gastric emptying—all of which contribute to lowering blood glucose levels.

Did you know

The discovery of GLP-1, like Ozempic, shares its roots with another groundbreaking diabetes treatment: insulin. Both were discovered in Canada, the same country that brought us the lifesaving insulin through the pioneering work of Frederick Banting and Charles Best from the University of Toronto. This connection highlights Canada’s significant contributions to diabetes research and treatment.

How Did a Venomous Lizard Contribute to Ozempic’s Discovery?

Gila Monster

After Dr. Daniel Drucker discovered a hormone known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that aids in lowering blood sugar levels and managing appetite, it was observed that natural GLP-1 breaks down rapidly in the body. The complete potential of GLP-1 was not entirely grasped until the early 1990s, when John Eng, an endocrinologist, decoded proteins from the venom of the Gila monster, a poisonous lizard commonly found in the southwestern United States and Mexico.

During his research, Eng discovered two proteins, exendin-3 and exendin-4, that closely resembled human GLP-1. This was a significant discovery because it suggested that the lizard’s venom could hold the key to new treatments for diabetes.

Daniel Drucker was fascinated by Eng’s findings and decided to investigate the lizard’s GLP-1-like proteins further. However, obtaining the lizard’s DNA for study proved a significant challenge. Initially, the team tried to use DNA from preserved lizard samples at the Royal Ontario Museum, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

The breakthrough came when Drucker acquired a live Gila monster through his connection with the Utah Zoo. This allowed Drucker and his team to clone the lizard’s genes, a critical step in understanding how the GLP-1-like proteins functioned.

The Rise of GLP-1 Drugs

Hand holding Ozempic Injection penResearch on the venom of the Gila monster has led to the development of GLP-1-mimicking drugs, such as Ozempic (semaglutide). These drugs are designed to mimic the action of the GLP-1 hormone, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels in the body. GLP-1 receptor agonists are more user-friendly than other treatments because they resist degradation, allowing for less frequent dosing.

According to a study, they have been shown to reduce HbA1C by about 1.0% in individuals with normal kidney function and improve postprandial blood glucose control by approximately 1%. This makes them useful tools for managing diabetes. Weight loss is another notable benefit of GLP-1 agonists. They have been reported to lead to weight loss in the 1.6–3.1 kg range. A study reported 5-6 kg weight loss in a short-term administration of 12-24 weeks. This makes GLP-1 drugs an attractive option for those who struggle with weight loss.

Another benefit of GLP-1 receptor agonists is their ability to reduce cardiovascular risk. In clinical trials, they have consistently demonstrated modest reductions in systolic blood pressure, with observed mean reductions ranging from 0.8 to 2.6 mm Hg. They have also been associated with beneficial effects on cardiovascular outcomes, making them a valuable tool for managing not only diabetes but also cardiovascular disease.

The ability to provide multiple health benefits from a single treatment has greatly enhanced the appeal of GLP-1 drugs. As research continues, we will likely discover even more benefits of this promising class of drugs.

How Did Ozempic End Up in Novo Nordisk?

After Dr. Drucker’s discovery, Novo Nordisk further developed Exendin-4 into Ozempic, the first GLP-1-based drug approved for Type 2 diabetes treatment in 2005. Novo Nordisk significantly enhanced Ozempic’s accessibility by investing in clinical trials, regulatory approvals, and patient education initiatives. These efforts ensured that Ozempic became widely available to patients in need, promoting it as a valuable treatment option for diabetes and obesity.

Since then, Novo Nordisk has continuously refined and marketed Ozempic, leading to significant sales growth and widespread adoption globally. Ozempic’s once-weekly dosing regimen, efficacy in blood sugar control, and weight loss promotion have revolutionized diabetes and obesity management, making it a cornerstone medication in the field.

As evidenced by Novo Nordisk’s financial reports, Ozempic has significantly contributed to the company’s sales growth. Novo Nordisk reported an increase in sales of 31% in Danish kroner and 36% at constant exchange rates, amounting to 232.3 billion kroner ($33.71 billion). This substantial growth in sales is attributed in part to the popularity and demand for Ozempic.

The Broader Impact

GLP-1 medications are changing the way we treat chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity. They offer a comprehensive approach to treatment by addressing multiple aspects of metabolic diseases, including controlling blood glucose, managing weight, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. This can improve overall patient health and reduce the need for multiple medications.

In addition, GLP-1 medications can help prevent the progression or development of related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes by controlling weight, which is a major risk factor for various chronic conditions. This encourages a shift towards more preventative measures in chronic disease management.

The success of GLP-1 medications highlights the importance of personalized medicine. As we learn how individuals respond differently to treatments based on genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, treatments like GLP-1 can be tailored to maximize effectiveness and minimize side effects for specific patient populations. This personalized approach can lead to better patient outcomes and a more efficient healthcare system.

Health Note

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Ozempic’s journey from the venomous lizard’s saliva to a leading treatment for diabetes and obesity is remarkable. The development by Novo Nordisk has transformed it into a widely successful medication, making a significant difference in the management of these conditions. The rise of GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic marks a new era in medical treatment, showcasing the power of scientific discovery and innovation.

FAQs About Ozempic

Is Ozempic approved for weight loss?

While Ozempic is not FDA-approved specifically for weight loss, it has been shown to promote weight loss as a side effect in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

How much weight can you lose in 6 months on Ozempic?

In clinical trials, participants taking Ozempic (semaglutide) for weight loss experienced an average weight loss of around 5-10% of their initial body weight over a 6-month period.

What is Exendin-4?

Exendin-4 is a hormone found in the Gila monster’s venom that shares structural similarities with GLP-1 but remains active in the body longer.

What other drugs are similar to Ozempic?

Other GLP-1 drugs include Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Rybelsus.

Are there side effects associated with Ozempic?

Yes, common side effects include gastrointestinal issues like nausea, but they are generally well-tolerated.

What are some potential future uses of GLP-1 drugs?

GLP-1 drugs are being tested for cardiovascular, liver, and kidney diseases, as well as Alzheimer’s, sleep apnea, PCOS, and addictive behaviors.

How long should a person be on Ozempic?

The duration for which a person should be on Ozempic (semaglutide) depends on their individual treatment goals, response to the medication, and the management of their type 2 diabetes or weight loss objectives. Clinical guidelines and studies suggest that Ozempic can be used as a long-term treatment as long as it remains effective and well-tolerated, with regular monitoring of blood sugar levels and overall health. Adjustments or discontinuation of the medication may occur based on the person’s progress and any side effects experienced.

Why do some people criticize Ozempic users?

Some view using Ozempic for weight loss as taking the “easy way out,” which can lead to backlash.

What is the “Ozempic effect” on the food industry?

Some believe it is impacting food sales, as users report reduced food intake and healthier choices.


Underwood, K. (2024, February 28). The Canadian doctor who helped invent Ozempic. Maclean’s. https://macleans.ca/society/health/who-discovered-ozempic/

Elsevier B.V. (2024). Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Agonist – an overview. In ScienceDirect Topics. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/glucagon-like-peptide-1-agonist

Novo Nordisk. (2017). Highlights of Prescribing Information: OZEMPIC (semaglutide) injection, for subcutaneous use. Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2017/209637lbl.pdf