LONDON/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen announced that the company will pursue the launch of its highly popular obesity drug Wegovy in markets where it already has strong sales of its older weight loss medication Saxenda. This comes as the company faces increasing competition from US rival Eli Lilly.
In November, Lilly received approval in the US, UK, and EU for its obesity drug Zepbound, and both Novo’s and Lilly’s medications are the most effective weight loss treatments approved to date.
In his first detailed comments on how competition is affecting the company’s strategy for the weekly Wegovy blockbuster injection, Jorgensen stated that the Danish pharmaceutical manufacturer is closely monitoring Lilly’s launches.
Jorgensen previously expressed that he welcomes competition and believes there is room for multiple medications in the rapidly growing obesity drug market, which analysts estimate could be worth over $100 billion by 2030.
Novo forecasted another year of double-digit growth as it increased US deliveries of Wegovy. The company is now competing with Lilly’s drug in the US and Germany, with Lilly announcing plans to launch in the UK within weeks. In January, Lilly also launched its weight loss drug – sold as Mounjaro in Europe – in Poland, where Novo has not yet introduced Wegovy.
Since its debut in the US in 2021, Novo has introduced Wegovy in eight countries, including Germany and the UK, most recently in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. Next month, Wegovy will be launched in Japan, its first Asian market.
Jorgensen explained to Reuters that the decision to establish a presence in the UAE and Switzerland was partly due to Novo already building its obesity business in those countries. He stated, „It’s easier to start there than in markets where, for instance, we don’t have strong Saxenda sales.“
Saxenda, Novo’s older and less effective weight loss medication, experienced a sales surge after Wegovy faced scarcity issues following its launch in the US due to high demand.
Jorgensen reaffirmed that the introduction of Wegovy in more European countries, where there is generally a single-payer healthcare system, will be „controlled.“ Novo aims to sign agreements with European governments to ensure that a portion of the supply benefits the most vulnerable patients who cannot afford to pay out of pocket.
However, a major hurdle is producing enough to meet the enormous demand. Eli Lilly has been reluctant to disclose how much Zepbound and Mounjaro it can produce this year as it expands its North Carolina facility, engages contract manufacturers, and builds a facility in Germany.
Zepbound has faced shortages this month, although the company predicted that this would end in February. In the US, 25,000 new prescriptions for Zepbound were written at the end of December, while approximately 54,150 new prescriptions for Wegovy were issued in the week to January 19, a decrease from a peak of 135,000 in May, according to data from healthcare data company IQVIA.
On Wednesday, the Danish pharmaceutical manufacturer announced that it has more than doubled US deliveries of lower doses compared to recent months, the first sign of progress in alleviating shortages after years of efforts to increase production. However, periodic shortages are still expected.
(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Editing by Jan Harvey and Josephine Mason)