Sanders Launches Probe of ‘Outrageously High Prices’ of Novo’s Ozempic, Wegovy

Novo Nordisk_iStock, hapabapa

Pictured: Novo Nordisk's office in California/iStock, hapabapa

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate health committee, on Wednesday launched an investigation into what he called the “outrageously high prices” of Novo Nordisk’s top-selling GLP-1 analog semaglutide, which is sold as Ozempic for type 2 diabetes and Wegovy for chronic weight management.

Sanders blasted the Danish drugmaker for charging Americans a much higher price for these treatments. The senator noted that Ozempic costs $969 a month in the U.S., while it can be bought for $155 in Canada and $59 in Germany. Wegovy costs $1,349 a month in the U.S. and only $149 in Germany and $92 in the U.K.

In his letter to Novo CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, Sanders conceded that Ozempic and Wegovy have the potential to be a “game changer” for Americans with type 2 diabetes and obesity but argued that “they will not do any good for the millions of patients who cannot afford them.”

Sanders made the case that if the prices for Ozempic and Wegovy are not substantially reduced they “have the potential to bankrupt Medicare, Medicaid, and our entire healthcare system.” At the same time, he noted that Novo made over $12 billion in profits last year—up 76% from 2021.

As chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Sanders is trying to pressure Novo to substantially decrease the list prices for both Ozempic and Wegovy. The independent senator is also asking for additional information on these treatments, including revenue, prices paid by government and commercial payers, R&D spending and the company’s strategies to “protect or extend” the products’ exclusivity.

Sanders is also asking for an explanation as to why the drugmaker charges Wegovy almost $400 more per month than Ozempic, “given they are the same drug.” Novo has until May 8, 2024 to respond.

Semaglutide, the active ingredient in both Ozempic and Wegovy, is a GLP-1 receptor agonist, which works by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone and triggering the secretion of insulin from the pancreas in response to blood sugar levels. The drug was first approved in 2017 as Ozempic for type 2 diabetes and in 2021 as Wegovy for obesity, in combination with diet and exercise.

Last month, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Novo could profitably produce injectable semaglutide for less than $5 per month, much lower than its current monthly cost. List prices could be further reduced by biosimilar and generic competition, the study noted.

Sanders cited the study in his letter to Jørgensen, writing that “in my view, the American people should not have to pay up to $1,349 a month for prescription drugs that cost less than $5 to manufacture.”

Tristan Manalac is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. Reach out to him on LinkedIn or email him at tristan@tristanmanalac.com or tristan.manalac@biospace.com.

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