Unable to scale up its manufacturing fast enough to meet the spiraling demand for its GLP-1 weight loss products, Novo Nordisk is employing a new strategy—reducing production of diabetes drug Victoza to make more Ozempic.
Novo and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) divulged (PDF) the move in a letter to healthcare professionals, warning of a growing shortage of both medicines that is set to intensify during the rest of the fourth quarter.
With the shortage of Victoza expected to continue into the second quarter of next year, the EMA has instructed healthcare providers not to start new patients on the drug until then. While Victoza (liraglutide) and Ozempic (semaglutide) are both GLP-1 drugs, the former—which was originally approved in 2010—is not used for weight loss.
Intermittent shortages of Ozempic are expected to persist throughout 2024, though the overall supply situation should improve in the first quarter of next year, according to the letter. Novo Nordisk will limit the supply of starter doses of Ozempic (0.25 mg) to help curb the initiation of new patients, the company said. During this period, the EMA has also recommended that doctors “limit” new users.
With celebrity endorsers and social media fueling the weight loss craze, demand for GLP-1 drugs, first from Novo Nordisk and then from Eli Lilly, has skyrocketed even though many users are paying full price for the treatments, which can run more than $10,000 annually.
Both companies have earmarked enormous sums—including $6 billion for Novo—to beef up their manufacturing capabilities for the products. Lilly says that by the end of this year, it will have twice the capacity as it had at the start of the year to produce its weight loss products.
In the third quarter, Ozempic sales reached $3.3 billion, while Novo’s obesity treatment Wegovy—which is simply the same drug at a higher dose—rung up $1.4 billion in sales. Together, the two treatments accounted for 56% of the company’s revenue of $8.4 billion. Earlier this year, as measured by market cap, Novo became the most valuable pharma company in Europe.
Lilly now holds that distinction in the U.S. thanks in large part to its development of tirzepatide, a dual-action blood sugar modulator that studies indicate is even more effective in triggering weight loss. Lilly’s diabetes product Mounjaro raked in sales of $1.4 billion in the third quarter, and, earlier this month, the company pushed its obesity drug Zepbound—which is the same formulation and dosage as Mounjaro—across the FDA finish line.
With some diabetes patients unable to get Ozempic due to overwhelming demand for it for weight loss, some countries in Europe have halted export of the treatment and placed other limitations on its use.