Danish pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk will boost supplies of its wildly popular obesity drug Wegovy in the United States this year, mitigating—but likely not ending—shortages as it reports huge profits but struggles to meet growing demand while expanding into new markets.
Novo Nordisk “started gradually increasing” supplies of lower doses of Wegovy in January, the company told investors Wednesday, months after it throttled provisions to “safeguard continuity of care.”
The company will more than double the quantity of lower doses reaching the U.S. compared to recent months, CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen told reporters in a call discussing the firm’s stellar 2023 financial results.
Novo Nordisk will also gradually increase overall supply of the anti-obesity drug throughout the rest of 2024, the company confirmed to Forbes in an email.
In its annual report, the drugmaker said it is exploring other ways to shore up scarce supplies of in-demand medicines, adding that it has invested nearly $11 billion in expanding global production capacity.
The company said it is also “thinking strategically” about how to remove bottlenecks from its supply chain, singling out disposable auto-injector pens patients use to deliver Wegovy and other medications in its catalog.
In particular, Novo said it is exploring ways to reduce reliance on “single-use injection devices,” such as introducing medicines in once-weekly, rather than daily, formulations.
So Can New Patients Now Start Wegovy?
Novo Nordisk throttled distribution of smaller Wegovy doses in the U.S. in May in order to safeguard supplies for existing patients. As the drug has a risk of gastrointestinal side effects like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, patients are started on a smaller dose that is then increased over time to reduce any risks. The restrictions, which are still officially in place after the announcement on boosting supplies, meant many new patients could not begin treatment. Jorgensen said the increased supplies mean more U.S. patients will be able to start treatment.
Novo Nordisk has been struggling to meet booming demand for Wegovy for years. The drug scored regulatory approval in the U.S. in 2021 and it has been featured on the Food and Drug Administration’s shortages list since early 2022. For much of this time, Wegovy, the brand name for a GLP-1 hormone-mimicking drug semaglutide, was the only anti-obesity drug of its kind on the market and its success has pushed Novo Nordisk to secure record profits and become one of the most valuable companies in Europe. Semaglutide’s weight-loss properties have also contributed to shortages of another of Novo’s blockbusters: Ozempic. Ozempic also contains semaglutide but is licensed to treat diabetes, not obesity, but as it is authorized clinicians can and do prescribe it for other purposes “off label.”
The U.S. is not alone in struggling to secure supplies of the popular drugs and officials there and around the world have warned demand is helping spur the market for counterfeits and trafficked goods. Illegal sales can be dangerous and have none of the rigorous safety guarantees pharmaceutical firms must adhere to during production, sales and shipping, such as the sterile conditions required for injected medicines. Some patients in Austria and Britain have been hospitalized after using products that may have contained insulin instead of the advertised semaglutide.
50 million. That’s how many people with obesity should be able to get healthcare coverage for Wegovy in the U.S., Novo Nordisk estimates. Around 10 million would access this through Medicaid and 40 million through commercial coverage, the company said. It estimates there are around 110 million adults living with obesity in the country.