Fierce JPM Week: Novo Nordisk plans more patient outreach, doctor education as Wegovy launch works through supply woes

Novo Nordisk is off and running with its next big launch in Wegovy, an injectable GLP-1 medicine for obesity. While the launch has already run into early supply hurdles, Novo will be busy this year making sure more patients can get started on the drug, an exec recently said.

Speaking during the Fierce JPM Week virtual conference, Novo's executive vice president of North America operations, Doug Langa, said the company will tackle a number of hurdles during the ongoing launch. For one, the company is working on "market development" and ensuring people understand that obesity should be "recognized as a serious chronic disease," similar to diabetes or asthma, and that it "deserves to be treated as such," Langa said.

Doug Langa (Novo Nordisk)

That effort includes a push to encourage more patients to seek treatment and more doctors to write prescriptions, Langa said. Obesity is a "challenging" discussion between doctors and patients, he said, but the company is working to spur more people to have the conversation 

For instance, the company has launched two programs to "reduce the stigma and bias" around obesity, Langa said. One campaign is called "It's Bigger Than Me" and features Queen Latifah. It sets out to "change the conversation about obesity, not only with people who live with this disease, but also society in general," Langa said.

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"Quite frankly, we just all need to get better," he added.

The other is a disease awareness effort called "Truth About Weight" that teaches the science of obesity and encourages people to talk to their doctors about it.

The overall idea is to show people "that obesity is not just a matter of willpower, but rather a chronic disease, like, say, diabetes or asthma, that deserves to be treated as such," Langa said.

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

But supply hurdles loom over the launch in its early days. Late last month, Novo said a contract manufacturer in charge of syringe filling for Wegovy pens in the U.S. had temporarily halted deliveries because of manufacturing problems. Because of the shortage, Novo said it expected few new patients to be able to start on the drug in the first half of 2022. Earlier in the launch, analysts with Jefferies said demand had outstripped early supply.

When those supply shortages ease, Novo plans to "relaunch promotional campaigns to raise awareness" among patients and doctors, Langa said. In the meantime, the company is working to "stabilize the supply" of the drug.

RELATED: Novo Nordisk's weight loss drug Wegovy to run short amid contract manufacturer hiccup

As another aspect of the launch, Novo is still working to "negotiate and importantly, collaborate with insurers, [pharmacy benefit managers], and employers to expand coverage and remove barriers to treatment." So far, the company has won coverage deals with the three largest PBMs to cover Wegovy, Langa said, which is "absolutely encouraging." But the company still has "more work to do" to make the drug available to more patients, he added.

Novo's Wegovy won FDA approval in June as an adjunct to diet and exercise to manage weight in obese patients and in overweight patients with at least one weight-related health problem.