Ever since Novo Nordisk launched Wegovy two years ago, the company has struggled to meet the huge demand for its breakthrough weight loss drug and is yet to make it available in a larger range of markets. Following a recent launch in Germany, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen makes a case for cost sharing with governments to mitigate the strain on healthcare systems struggling to deal with the global obesity epidemic.
Partnering with Governments
Shown to help patients reduce body weight by as much as 15 percent when combined with exercise and lifestyle changes, Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy has become a blockbuster in the United States despite its high price tag of over USD 1,000 a month. Still scrambling to meet demand two years after the initial launch there and subsequently in Denmark and Norway, Novo Nordisk has moved into one of Europe’s largest markets, Germany, a country where 18.5 percent of adults are obese.
Germany is also home to a public health insurance system that covers about 90 percent of the population. Within that system obesity, typically considered a lifestyle disease and not a chronic disease, the costs of obesity treatments are not covered.
During a recent Reuters Newsmaker interview, Jørgensen claimed that “individual citizens are willing to pay out-of-pocket” as the firm has seen in the US, but to reach those most in need of treatment and with limited means, Novo is looking to reach agreements with government payers and take what he calls a more “intentional” approach to reaching patients.
In Germany, Jørgensen asserts, the firm is looking to become a part of a government-led obesity programme. “Germany is not a launch where we are trying to get to every individual, but where we are trying to work with the healthcare system and be part of this obesity program and by doing that, we can reach the patients who need the medicine most.”
Priority: Patients with Highest BMI
Novo’s CEO vindicates focusing on patients most in need, because public healthcare systems will not be able to cover everyone. “We believe that there will probably be no country that will be able to fund obesity care for everyone because in some countries about half of the population is living with obesity.”
The company’s strategy as Novo looks to enter further European markets will be to focus on patients with the highest Body Mass Index (BMI) and co-morbidity, and those who may struggle to pay the up to EUR 300 -a-month price tag. “In Europe, where it’s typically government-funded healthcare, we would aim to seek reimbursement for those patients who have the highest BMI and co-morbidity and perhaps are less fortunate from a socio-economic point of view.”
Benefits for Healthcare Systems
Jørgensen contended that treating obesity will offer huge benefits not only to individuals suffering from it, but to entire healthcare systems, creating savings by avoiding related diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. “Most countries are facing healthcare systems that are breaking down. Obesity treatments can help to mitigate the strain on healthcare systems – by addressing obesity we take the pressure off healthcare systems,” he argues.
Along these lines, the Danish firm recently announced the results of a Wegovy late-stage cardiovascular trial demonstrating that it can also reduce the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events by 20 percent.
More Patients Than Novo Can Serve
Novo has found itself in a baffling and privileged position, one Jørgensen calls “an unusual situation to be in for a pharmaceutical company because typically when you launch medicines, you have a relatively well-defined population that you’re going to serve.”
Before the company can satisfy the entire market of what he estimates as a billion patients around the world,” Jørgensen believes it will still take “quite some years.”
Novo Nordisk’s share price has risen by a massive 165 percent since the initial launch of Wegovy in the US and made it Europe’s second most valuable listed company.
Photo Source: Novo Nordisk