Bring on Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide, Eli Lilly says. We’re ready

Eli Lilly executives say they aren't afraid of new, once-weekly competition to diabetes drug Trulicity from Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic, known generically as semaglutide.

The company is “extremely well prepared for semaglutide’s launch,” diabetes head Enrique Conterno told investors on Lilly’s fourth-quarter conference call. As of last week, that launch is officially underway in the U.S., and the drug snagged its European approval on Friday.

“I feel good about the experience that we are providing patients. We believe that experience will be unmatched, so we do think that we will be able to compete very effectively,” Conterno added.

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Trulicity has seen “significant sequential quarter-on-quarter growth,” he pointed out, noting that the week prior, the product’s market share had topped 40% for the first time—and that’s despite hefty competition from another Novo weapon, the daily-dosed heavyweight Victoza.

Semaglutide, though, has a couple points in its favor, including head-to-head data that showed it beat Trulicity at delivering reductions in blood sugar, as well as double the weight loss. Then there's the fact that semaglutide has already shown it can deliver a cardiovascular benefit—though that's something Victoza's also done, and Trulicity has been able to stand its ground, Conterno pointed out.

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But Novo's also working on an oral version of semaglutide, with key phase 3 data coming later this year. And the company has already said it would like to price its oral prospect on par with injectable therapies.

To that, though, Lilly has another answer. Novo is “going to position the product very early ... in treatment” and “continue to compete with some of the orals"—including SGLT2s, such as the Indianapolis drugmaker’s Jardiance.

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“We look at the value proposition of a Jardiance, for example, which is going to be difficult” for semaglutide to match, Conterno said.

Speaking of Jardiance, it’s got some new competition of its own in Merck’s SGLT2 newcomer Steglatro. But the way Conterno sees it, the new entry is actually a good thing.

“We do like the fact that there’s going to be increased promotion by having some additional competitors enter the class,” he said, later adding that “we believe that’s going to be an important catalyst for growth and it’s going to help the class, but also given Jardiance’s strong position, we will likely be the main beneficiary.”