Novo's next-gen GLP-1 Ozempic smashes blockbuster barrier amid ramp-up for Rybelsus rollout

Novo Nordisk wasn't able to get its "holy grail" oral GLP-1 med Rybelsus on the market in a meaningful way last year, but it wasn't hurting for growth. The injectable formulation of the drug, Ozempic, carried the torch as the company geared up its big new launch.

Injectable type 2 diabetes med Ozempic hauled in $1.65 billion globally last year, a major leap from $264 million the year before. In an interview, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company now holds 57% of new-to-brand market share in the GLP-1 class in the U.S., “significantly ahead” of the competition.

And that's in a drug class growing overall. Each time a new product with a “differentiated profile” has launched in the U.S., the GLP-1 category has grown, he said.

Since its February 2018 rollout in the U.S., Ozempic has been growing thanks to its efficacy and weight-lowering benefits, Jørgensen said. It's now available in 22 countries. Going forward, the drug just scooped up an FDA label outlining its cardiovascular benefits, and the company plans launches in new markets. 

But in the meantime, Novo is revving up Rybelsus. The med generated just $7 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 amid a targeted rollout focused on specialists. The company has trained its full sales team and is negotiating market access, Jørgensen said. 

The next-gen meds did steal some share from their older cousin. Even as Ozempic grew, sales for Novo's older Victoza slipped 13% at constant exchange rates last year to $3.23 billion. With those performances and others, Novo grew sales 6% at constant exchange rates in 2019 to $17.96 billion.

RELATED: Novo's Ozempic scores major win with heart-helping FDA approval. Is Rybelsus next? 

So far with its Rybelsus launch, Novo has inked payer deals to reach 30% combined market access between commercial insurers and Medicare Part D. As access picks up, the company plans to go into “strike mode” and deploy the full sales team to promote the new oral option.  

The med is intended for patients who are earlier in their diabetes progression, Jørgensen said. For patients who are more progressed, Ozempic offers better efficacy. 

All told, Novo is in a “business cycle where we are launching a lot of our products,” the CEO said. Insulin prices in the U.S. remain a challenge, but the company’s other therapeutic classes “grew nicely” in 2019 and “all regions contributed to growth.” 

RELATED: Novo preps for Rybelsus 'strike mode' as Ozempic hits blockbuster heights 

In 2020, the company predicts sales growth of 3% to 6% at constant exchange rates as new med continue to take off. Still, the company expects intense competition in diabetes and hemophilia, plus continued pricing pressure in the U.S. As of now, Novo doesn't anticipate any major impact from the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak, but Jørgensen said if it “keeps growing and spreading,” it could affect the company.