As Lilly rivalry flares, Novo CEO sets out Wegovy launch strategy, ET HealthWorld


London: Novo Nordisk will target launches of its popular obesity shot Wegovy in markets where it already has strong sales of its older weight-loss drug Saxenda, CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen said, as it faces growing competition from U.S. rival Eli Lilly.

Novo and Lilly‘s drugs are the most effective treatments for weight loss approved to date. Lilly’s presence in the sector has strengthened after it won approval in November in Britain, the European Union and the U.S. for its powerful obesity drug Zepbound.

In his first detailed comments on how competition is affecting his company’s strategy for its Wegovy blockbuster weekly injection, Jorgensen said the Danish drugmaker is watching Lilly’s launches.

“I think most likely they have a situation like ours where they’re building capacity and have to look at tactics market by market,” he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

“They, I’m sure, look at what we do, and we will be looking at what they do. That’s how competition plays out.”

Jorgensen has previously said he welcomes competition, and that there is room for multiple drugs in the fast-growing obesity drug market, which analysts predict could be worth more than $100 billion by 2030.

Novo on Wednesday forecast another year of double-digit growth as it boosted U.S. supplies of Wegovy.

The company is going head-to-head against Lilly’s drug in the U.S. and Germany, and Lilly said last week it would launch in Britain “within weeks”.

In January, Lilly also launched its weight-loss drug – sold as Mounjaro in Europe – in Poland, where Novo has not yet rolled out Wegovy. Jorgensen said he was not aware that Lilly had launched in Poland.

Novo has launched Wegovy in eight countries including Germany and Britain since its debut in the U.S. in 2021, with its most recent launches in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. It will debut Wegovy in Japan, its first Asian market, next month.

Jorgensen told Reuters the decision to launch in Switzerland and the UAE was in part because Novo had already established its obesity business in those countries.

“It’s easier to start there, compared to markets say where we do not have strong Saxenda sales,” he said.

Saxenda, Novo’s older and less effective weight-loss drug, has seen a jump in sales since supplies of Wegovy ran short after runaway demand followed its U.S. launch.

Jorgensen reiterated that launches of Wegovy in more European countries, which tend to have single-payer public health systems, will be “controlled”.

Novo aims to sign agreements with European governments to guarantee some supply goes to the most vulnerable patients who cannot afford to pay.


U.S. prescriptions of Zepbound have soared since the drug hit U.S. shelves in early December, reaching 37,000 in the week to Jan. 19, data from healthcare data firm IQVIA and JPMorgan showed.

But they have yet to catch up with Wegovy, which totalled 92,000 in the same week, below the peak of 135,000 hit in May last year.

A major hurdle is meeting ferocious demand.

Eli Lilly has declined to say how much Zepbound and Mounjaro it will be able to make this year as it expands its North Carolina plant, turns to contract manufacturers and builds a plant in Germany.

One dose of Zepbound has been in shortage this month, though the company predicted that would end in February.

On Wednesday, the Danish drugmaker said it was more than doubling U.S. deliveries of lower doses compared with recent months, the first sign of progress in easing shortages after a year-long effort to ramp up output.

Still it expects periodic shortages.

  • Published On Feb 1, 2024 at 02:27 PM IST

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