Biden joins Sanders' campaign targeting Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly's diabetes and obesity drug prices

In recent months, frequent pharma critic Sen. Bernie Sanders has been ratcheting up a campaign against Novo Nordisk over the price of its popular diabetes and weight loss medicines. Now, the senator has big-time backup in his fight.

In a new USA Today op-ed piece, President Joe Biden and Sen. Sanders blasted Novo Nordisk for "charging the American people unconscionably high prices" for its popular GLP-1 medicines Ozempic and Wegovy. They noted that the drugs cost several times more in the U.S. than in many other developed nations, a point Sanders has raised repeatedly during his recent crusade against Novo Nordisk. 

Novo Nordisk, for its part, is "disappointed that a very difficult and complex problem is being oversimplified and mischaracterized for political purposes," a company spokesperson said in a statement.

"Each country has its own healthcare system and making isolated and limited comparisons ignores this fundamental concern," Novo's spokesperson added. "What remains constant is the indisputable value and cost savings Novo Nordisk medicines bring to patients, healthcare systems and society."

Besides Novo, the two politicians said Eli Lilly is charging "unconscionably high prices for Mounjaro, a drug with similar health effects as Ozempic." Lilly's drug costs about $1,100 monthly in the U.S., according to the op-ed.

"Comparing list prices in the United States to other countries ignores patient affordability programs and hundreds of billions of dollars in discounts and fees paid to PBMs by pharmaceutical companies that should lower the costs of medicines for Americans, but unfortunately this system can drive prices higher," a Lilly spokesperson said in a statement.

As for potential policy solutions around high U.S. drug prices, Biden and Sanders said they'll work to "expand negotiations on drug prices."

The two want to expand the Inflation Reduction Act's $2,000 out-of-pocket maximum for patients on Medicare Part D to everyone in the U.S., not just seniors. They want Medicare to be able to negotiate prices on at least 50 medicines per year, rather than the 20 that'll eventually be allowed by the Inflation Reduction Act.

"It’s not just Congress that needs to act," Biden and Sanders wrote. "Prescription drug companies also must stop ripping off the American people."

The op-ed comes amid Sanders' multi-month skirmish with Novo Nordisk. Back in April, Sanders' Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee sent a letter to Novo CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen criticizing the company for charging "unjustifiably high prices" for Ozempic and Wegovy. 

In May, the HELP committee released a dire report about potential GLP-1 spending in the U.S. The report concluded that the drug class could "bankrupt" the U.S. healthcare system, citing the meds' popularity and prices as major healthcare spending drivers. Sanders and Biden repeated that warning in their Tuesday op-ed.

Last month, the senator, chair of the HELP committee, threatened to subpoena a Novo Nordisk exec in his pursuit of answers about the company's U.S. pricing strategy. That seemed to prompt Jørgensen to agree to testify at a hearing scheduled for early September.

Editor's note: This story was updated with statements from Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly.