Weight loss drug wins 25,000 new US users a week

Weight loss drug wins 25,000 new US users a week

Registrations for weight loss drug Wegovy jumped fivefold in the US in the first three months of the year, reaching a rate of more than 25,000 a week, maker Novo Nordisk said.

The surge reflects strong demand for the drug which, alongside sister diabetes drug Ozempic, has been hailed as revolutionary and helped turn Novo Nordisk into one of Europe’s most valuable companies.

But the drug giant is facing new pressure, as the drugs’ high prices come under scrutiny in the US and rival offers emerge from rival Eli Lilly.

In a quarterly update for investors, the firm said it had cut prices in the US in the first three months of the year.

It said prices for Wegovy and Ozempic will continue to fall in the coming months.

But overall sales are still expected to grow by 27% this year, up slightly from earlier forecasts, despite price cuts and other supply constraints.

“With the volume opportunity we have, that’s far beyond what we’ve seen in terms of lower price points,” chief executive Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen said.

He attributed the drop in prices in part to the firm pushing to reach more “exposed” corners of the market.

Overall, Novo Nordisk said its diabetes and weight loss drugs served nearly 42 million patients worldwide at the end of March.

The US, where about 40% of adults are obese and more than 10% are estimated to have diabetes, represents the largest market for the company.

But high drug prices have prompted many health insurance plans in the US – including Medicare, the government’s plan for seniors – to restrict access.

Last month, Senator Bernie Sanders launched an investigation into the issue, noting that Novo Nordisk lists a monthly price of $1,349 (£1,078) for Wegovy in the US, while in the UK it can be bought privately from around £140, and less for medical professionals.

Mr Jorgenson admitted that the demand for the treatment was “burdening the healthcare system”.

But he said he expected the firm to be able to convince regulators of the benefits of the drug, which was also recently approved to treat heart disease.

“I am optimistic about how we can deliver value to the healthcare system for these interventions. I am very optimistic about the basic willingness among patients and physicians to use these drugs,” he said.

By far, the biggest struggle Novo Nordisk faces is keeping up with demand.

It has spent the last few years scrambling to try to expand its manufacturing capacity, investing in new factories.

A fivefold jump in Wegovy prescriptions in the US since December is a sign that the issue is easing, chief financial officer Karsten Munk Knudsen said.

“Obviously that is a sign of the supply chain operating and running and building inventory and supplying the market,” he said. “You have to see it as confidence in the scale.”

Ozempic was approved for sale in the US in 2017, and in 2018 in the EU. Wegovy follows in the US in 2021, and in the European Union in 2022.

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