Company: Novo Nordisk
Disease: Type 2 diabetes
Approved: Dec. 5, 2017
First four full quarters sales: DKK 3.15 billion ($508 million)
For Novo Nordisk, Ozempic (semaglutide) bridges newly approved sister diabetes drug Rybelsus (oral semaglutide) and older GLP-1 agonist Victoza.
Before Ozempic, blockbuster daily GLP-1 injection Victoza was already losing market share to Eli Lilly’s weekly option Trulicity. But Novo was determined to win back patients.
For Ozempic’s launch, Novo prepared with a mountain of clinical data, showing it could reduce blood sugar levels compared not just to placebo, but also to Merck & Co.’s DPP-4 inhibitor Januvia, AstraZeneca’s once-weekly GLP-1 drug Bydureon and, most importantly, Trulicity. Plus, the drug also displayed an ability to help patients lose weight.
Since Lilly set a new industry standard by winning the first heart-risk reduction nod for a diabetes drug—the Boehringer Ingelheim-partnered SGLT2 drug Jardiance—other drugs have followed suit, and Ozempic was no exception.
Novo had data showing Ozempic cut stroke risks by 39% and overall cardiovascular risks by 26%, which eventually helped it win a label expansion in early 2020. Trulicity soon followed with its own CV nod in February. Although the Lilly med’s 12% CV risk reduction over placebo disappointed investors, its new label—covering both patients without and without established CV disease—is actually wider than Ozempic’s, which only includes those with an existing CV disease.
Novo didn’t officially launch Ozempic until February 2018, two months after its FDA green light. In the third quarter of 2018, Ozempic helped Novo regain leadership in U.S. new-to-brand prescriptions. And by December 2018, the number of new-to-brand scripts for Ozempic had surpassed Victoza's for the first time.
The Danish company also went big on ad spending to get Ozempic off the ground. It launched Ozempic’s first DTC campaign in the summer of 2018, featuring a catchy take on ‘70s tune “Magic” by Pilot. For the remainder of that year, Novo spent $85.4 million on Ozempic TV ads. In 2019, its DTC marketing investment reached $160.5 million, as Lilly’s spend on Trulicity dropped to $148.3 million from $192.9 million in the prior year.
Ozempic crossed the blockbuster threshold in the first three quarters of 2019, with sales of DKK 6.87 billion and U.S. new-to-brand share of 37%. Now, the company is shifting its focus onto Rybelsus, the first oral GLP-1 med.