UPDATED: As Novo irons out obesity supply wrinkles, blockbuster-to-be Wegovy debuts in Europe

Looking to avoid another false start for its obesity blockbuster-in-waiting Wegovy, Novo Nordisk isn’t rushing the launch of its semaglutide med in Europe.

The GLP-1 drug was originally set to debut in the U.K. this summer, followed by other European countries by year-end. While Novo’s med still hasn’t made its way to the U.K., according to Bloomberg, Wegovy did launch in Novo’s home market of Denmark Monday, a company spokesperson said over email.

Novo has been communicating since the second quarter that the first Wegovy launches outside the U.S. would occur “towards the end of 2022.” With the days ticking down on the calendar year, its Denmark launch could be seen as fulfilling that promise. Still, it's far from a full debut on the continent. 

As for specific launch timelines around the rest of the bloc, Novo says it has "not disclosed specific launch plans per country."

When the company won a green light from European regulators in November 2021, Novo Nordisk said it planned to launch Wegovy in Europe "in the second half of 2022."

Novo’s slower pace across the pond may be something of a lesson learned after Wegovy’s rocky launch in the U.S. After snaring approval in summer 2021, Wegovy debuted to “substantial” demand that ultimately outstripped supply. Things reached a crescendo last December when Catalent, the contract manufacturer in charge of syringe filling for Wegovy pens in the U.S., had to temporarily halt deliveries on the heels of manufacturing issues.

The ensuing supply squeeze has weighed on Novo’s Wegovy rollout for the better part of a year. To cope with the issue, Novo previously paused sales and marketing of the drug.

Wegovy has been hailed the next big earner for Novo Nordisk, with the company recently hiking its total obesity sales projections to 25 billion Danish kroner (About $3.72 billion) by 2025. Novo had previously aimed (PDF) to generate around 11.35 billion Danish kroner (roughly $1.69 billion) by the middle of the decade.

Novo isn’t the only one buzzing about the potential for Wegovy and a host of other “game changer” weight loss meds in the works from Lilly, Amgen and others. In fact, Morgan Stanley Research recently predicted the total market for obesity medicines could reach $50 billion by the end of the decade. Obesity has the potential to become “the next blockbuster pharma category,” the Morgan Stanley team wrote in a note to clients in July.

For now, as Wegovy gears up for a 2023 relaunch in the U.S., the med is looking at a market all to itself. But soon, Eli Lilly’s tirzepatide—recently approved in Type 2 diabetes as Mounjaro—could creep up to steal the spot as the “preferred” weight loss drug, Cowen analysts opined in a recent obesity forecast.

In the U.S., Novo has communicated it expects to have all Wegovy strengths back on before the year is out.

As demand continues to rise—and no doubt increases again in 2023 with Wegovy supply back on tap—Novo is “gradually increasing [its] supply capacity and expect[s] this to be sufficient to support a potential continuation of the current sales growth trajectory,” Karsten Munk Knudsen, the company’s chief financial officer, said on a recent call with investors.

“Keeping our patients’ needs first, our global manufacturing facilities are now operating 24 hours, seven days a week, and we are investing about $1.6 billion (USD) in 2022 alone to expand capacity," Novo's spokesperson added in her email.

Meanwhile, Novo’s latest guidance assumes the Wegovy situation will be ironed out in 2023, but it also leaves room for “periodic supply constraints and related drug shortages,” Knudsen explained.  

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Novo Nordisk.