Novo Nordisk, armed with Wegovy green light, preps aggressive push to build obesity market

After Novo Nordisk last week snagged its hotly anticipated obesity green light for semaglutide, the drugmaker is wasting no time kicking the launch into gear.

With its Wegovy approval in hand, the company is prepping for “one of the fastest Novo Nordisk launches after approval ever,” Camilla Sylvest, Novo’s head of commercial strategy and corporate affairs, said on a call with investors Monday. Wegovy will debut Thursday, June 10, less than a week after receiving the FDA’s blessing, and will hit pharmacy shelves June 18.

Between now and then, Novo has lined up doctor events to spread the word, according to a company presentation released alongside the call. It’s also launched a physician education site titled Rethink Obesity to jump-start conversations about the disease.  

Novo didn't release a price for the new drug, but the company said it plans to introduce Wegovy at a similar list price to its previously approved weight loss drug Saxenda. That drug costs between $1,300 and $1,600 per month, according to various public sources.

With Wegovy, Novo is angling to more than double its obesity sales by 2025 versus its 2019 baseline, Chief Financial Officer Karsten Knudsen said on the call. Saxenda generated around $920 million last year.

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Despite obesity's increasing prevalence in the U.S. and elsewhere, the disease is still widely under-treated: There are around 100 million people struggling with the condition in the U.S., but less than 3% currently receive anti-obesity medications, Novo said.

The company is hoping Wegovy will change that thanks to a clear efficacy edge over other weight loss meds, including its own Saxenda.

Saxenda has been shown to help patients lose 5% of their body weight on average. In late-stage testing, Wegovy helped patients achieve and sustain an average of 15% weight loss for 68 weeks, Novo said on the call.  

Still, Novo has acknowledged that expanding its foothold in the obesity market will be no easy feat. To help market Wegovy, the company plans to encourage physicians to have treatment conversations with patients, plus raise obesity’s profile as a chronic disease that merits treatment with medication rather than a lifestyle condition that can be solved with diet and exercise.

It’s not yet clear how Novo plans to target patients, but Sylvest said the company's strategies will be “very much patient-directed, much more than they have been in the diabetes space."

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Reimbursement and access will present another obstacle. Insurers have historically been reluctant to pay for weight loss drugs, which many classify as lifestyle meds such as smoking cessation and hair loss treatments, Forbes noted.

On the payer front, the company is negotiating with pharmacy benefit managers “as we speak,” Sylvest said on the call. Novo is also launching a $25 copay card in the U.S. for patients whose insurance covers anti-obesity medications. Looking ahead, Novo plans to pursue broader Medicare coverage in the long term, but its current focus hinges on commercial coverage, Sylvest said.

The FDA approved Wegovy on Friday as an addition to diet and exercise to help manage weight in obese and overweight patients with at least one weight-related comorbidity. The drug is injected below the skin once a week and will come paired with its own single-dose delivery device, Novo revealed Monday. 

The company is already planning for more convenient dosing. Later this year, Novo aims to kick off a 1,000-subject phase 3a trial to assess the safety and efficacy of oral semaglutide 50 mg versus placebo in patients who are obese or overweight with comorbidities.