In Novo pricing probe, Sanders cranks up the heat with dire warning on projected GLP-1 spending

After recently placing a spotlight on Novo Nordisk’s "outrageous" U.S. pricing for GLP-1 drugs, Sen. Bernie Sanders is doubling down on his cost fighting crusade. This time, the senator is flagging budgetary concerns related to the GLP-1 class of diabetes and obesity medicines.

In a new report (PDF), the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee claims high GLP-1 drug prices, coupled with high uptake, could "bankrupt our entire health care system."

Sen. Sanders, a frequent pharma critic, chairs the committee. In a statement, the senator said the "unjustifiably high prices of these weight loss drugs could also cause a massive spike in prescription drug spending that could lead to an historic increase in premiums for Medicare and everyone who has health insurance."

A Novo Nordisk spokesperson said the company is “reviewing the report" and will continue to cooperate with Sanders' pricing investigation.

The report claims that if half of the U.S.' adults with obesity start taking Wegovy or similar drugs, total spending on the meds could outpace what Americans spent on all retail prescription drugs in 2022, or $411 billion. Medicare and Medicaid, meanwhile, could end up spending $166 billion annually on weight loss drugs, according to the HELP Committee's analysis.

Projections around total expenditures often raise alarm bells during the uptake phase for popular new medicines. But, as PhRMA's senior vice president of public affairs Alex Schriver pointed out in a recent blog post, "claims about the financial havoc" caused by new launches have turned out to be false at times in the past. He cited PCSK9 inhibitors and hepatitis C drugs as two examples where reality didn't match up to budget warnings.

Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk's pricing tactics landed in Sanders' crosshairs earlier this year. In March, the lawmaker touted the findings of a study that concluded Novo Nordisk's diabetes med Ozempic could be produced profitably for about $5 a month. In comparison, Novo charges nearly $1,000 monthly for the drug, Sanders said at the time.

A new brief (PDF) recently released by the Center of Medical Economics and Innovation at the Pacific Research Institute countered that study with its own analysis. Besides concerns with the study's methodology, the institute also flagged the role of pharmacy benefit managers in the drug pricing ecosystem.