Analysis-Wegovy launch in UK may underline Novo Nordisk’s need to get ahead of Lilly

By Maggie Fick

LONDON (Reuters) – Novo Nordisk’s decision to launch its weight loss drug Wegovy in Britain last week despite severe supply problems may have been motivated in part by a desire to get ahead in Eli Lilly’s own similar drug, said industry sources.

They said Novo may also have responded to concerns raised by the British government and patient counseling groups over the brand-name use of its diabetes drug Ozempic, which is contains the same active ingredient as Wegovy.

The Danish company says it wants to take Wegovy to those who need it most.

“Although the promotion is limited and controlled, we are doing our best to make access to Wegovy available to people with obesity in the UK,” said a spokesperson. a Novo. “It is very important that people with obesity have access to this drug and are using our semaglutide products for their appropriate indications.”

Wegovy has helped Novo become the most important company in Europe, although the production cannot be enough to meet the needs in its existing markets. Before being launched in the UK on Monday, the injectable drug has already been sold in the United States, Norway, Denmark and Germany.

Based on obesity statistics and prescriptions, millions of Britons could be eligible for Wegovy. A 2019 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that almost one in three adults are obese in the UK, the highest rate in Europe.

CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen told Reuters on August 25 that while supplies are limited, Novo will be “limited” and “focused” to ensure Wegovy reaches the best patients. then needed.

But some medical experts have warned that his decision to distribute Wegovy in the UK through private pharmacists as well as the National Health Service (NHS) could stimulate demand and mean people who can pay for it. they themselves are easy to find.

Novo has had to limit supplies of the initial vaccine in the United States because demand is outstripping supply and German doctors say sales are low.

Three private companies that currently order Wegovy in the UK told Reuters the amount they received last week from a supplier, a small part of the demand they registered from patients.

The figures they gave to Reuters indicate that many thousands to the company to give, while the NHS has refused to comment this week on the volumes it has received.

Novo said on Monday that it would give a portion of the available supplies to the NHS, which it said currently has around 50,000 patients who could be eligible in England.


A business source, who did not understand Novo’s decision-making process, said that the desire to stay in front of Lilly could be the reason.

Lilly’s drug, Mounjaro, was launched in the United States last year for type 2 diabetes but is expected to be approved there for weight loss in the end of the year. Studies have shown more weight loss than Wegovy.

Mounjaro is expected to be available through the NHS for the treatment of type 2 diabetes later this year. On Friday, the UK drug price watchdog NICE approved Mounjaro as a good option for patients with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes.

The type 2 diabetes drug Novo Ozempic has been on the market in the UK since 2019.

A Lilly spokesperson declined to comment on Wegovy’s announcement of when Mounjaro will be launched for the treatment of diabetes.

In July, the UK’s Department of Health and Welfare issued a statement on the supply of medicines that did not mention Ozempic but said there were “extremely limited, disruptive” supplies of the drug. GLP-1 receptor agonist drugs approved to treat type 2 diabetes.

“What (Novo) and Ozempic pulled away from is that they are a brand name associated with weight loss, and if they lose that market then they can’t have continuity of supply with Eli Lilly to ave, will be very worried for. them,” said the industry, who declined to be named, to Reuters.

To increase production, Novo is spending billions on new plants and hiring more contract manufacturers.

Another factor behind the timing of the launch of Wegovy may be the criticism by support groups such as Diabetes UK – and the government – over the spread of Ozempic’s name for weight loss. and lack of patients.

UBS analysts predicted this week that, as US and other insurers limit access to weight-loss drugs because their widespread use at current prices is too expensive, “most products benefits that may lead to many such new diseases”.

Studies have shown that, used in conjunction with lifestyle changes, Wegovy led to 15% weight loss over 68 weeks, while Mounjaro reached more than 22% in over 72 weeks.

UBS, Novo is buying a “buy”, saying that due to the high power of Mounjaro, it is unlikely that the Danish company will dominate the food market.

(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Editing by Alexander Smith and Catherine Evans)

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