Novo Nordisk’s spectacular ascendancy in 2023 has meant that its country managers across the world have had to embrace scrutiny and press coverage like never before.


In its centenary year, the Danish firm’s new generation of obesity drugs supercharged revenues to around EUR 30 billion, a 30 percent hike from 2022, and double the sales achieved five years earlier. CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen was named the Financial Times’ ‘Person of the Year’, while the company is now Europe’s most valuable and boasts a market capitalisation greater than the entire GDP of its home country.

For her part, Paula Barriga has been tasked with ensuring that Portugal is one of the few EU countries where Novo Nordisk’s obesity treatments are reimbursed. A first-time country manager, Barriga worked with MSD, Novartis, and Vifor (now CSL) before joining Novo Nordisk in early 2022. She was attracted to the company by what she calls its “overarching purpose,” explaining that “This purpose, initially centred around defeating diabetes, has evolved to encompass a broader mission of impelling change to combat a range of serious chronic diseases.”


Communicate, Collaborate

Despite Novo Nordisk’s stellar recent history, Barriga is keen to humbly emphasise that the lofty goal of a step change in chronic disease management cannot be achieved by any one actor alone.  Especially in Portugal, where over ten percent of the population are living with diabetes and where the annual direct costs relating to the disease are around EUR 1.5 billion, a collective and collaborative approach is crucial.

“We recognise that tackling serious chronic diseases requires collective efforts involving partnerships with healthcare decision-makers and health authorities,” she opines. Barriga will hope that her energetic and passionate approach can help build bridges in this effort. “The company aims to foster a broader dialogue beyond its own initiatives to address critical questions about treatment accessibility, regional variations, and the potential for cross-disciplinary learnings.”

Dialogue will also need to be extended to the raft of new actors keen to take a slice of a burgeoning global obesity market which is projected to grow to USD 80 billion by 2030. Barriga welcomes the competition. “We view competition in the market positively and see the success of competitors as beneficial to both patients and the industry,” she proclaims. “The presence of multiple successful competitors contributes to greater innovation, awareness, and education.”


New Frontiers in Obesity Treatment

This approach will be important for moving the needle for obesity, which is closely linked to diabetes; around 90 percent of type two diabetes patients in Portugal are overweight or have obesity. Recognising this connection, Barriga created a cardiometabolic unit within her affiliate, combining marketing and sales for the two therapeutic areas.

However, while Novo Nordisk’s next-gen obesity treatments have secured regulatory approval in Portugal, they are still not yet reimbursed by the national healthcare system. Barriga feels that reimbursement is a crucial next step and a potential game changer for the two million-plus people in the country who are overweight or have obesity. She does though accept the budgeting challenges facing the country. “We are committed to finding a balanced approach that considers both the imperative of enabling better health outcomes and the need for the sustainability of the healthcare system,” she outlines.

Additionally, introducing new therapies is just one piece of the puzzle. “Novo Nordisk endeavours to lead by example, bringing about a paradigm shift in the way obesity is perceived, treated, and discussed,” says Barriga. “It’s about initiating a broader conversation that goes beyond medication and delves into prevention, education, and the overall well-being of individuals affected by obesity.”


Read the full interview with Novo Nordisk Portugal’s Paula Barriga here