Drugmaker to testify on why weight-loss drugs cost 15x more in the US

Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, chief executive officer Novo Nordisk A/S, during an interview at the company's headquarters in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, on Monday, June 12, 2023.
Enlarge / Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, chief executive officer Novo Nordisk A/S, during an interview at the company’s headquarters in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, on Monday, June 12, 2023.

After some persuasion from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the CEO of Novo Nordisk will testify before lawmakers later this year on the “outrageously high cost” of the company’s diabetes and weight-loss drugs—Ozempic and Wegovy—in the US.

CEO Lars Jørgensen will appear before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), which is chaired by Sanders, in early September. The agreement came after a conversation with Sanders in which the CEO reportedly “reconsidered his position” and agreed to testify voluntarily. As such, Sanders has canceled a vote scheduled for June 18 on whether to subpoena Novo Nordisk to discuss its US prices, which are considerably higher than those of other countries.

The independent lawmaker has been working for months to pressure Novo Nordisk into lowering its prices and appearing before the committee. In April, Sanders sent Jørgensen a letter announcing an investigation into the prices and included a lengthy set of information requests. In May, the committee’s investigation released a report suggesting that Novo Nordisk’s current pricing threatens to “bankrupt our entire health care system.”

Sanders has repeatedly hammered not only the high prices of Novo Nordisk’s two blockbuster drugs but also the huge disparity between US prices and those in other countries.

Up to 15x more in the US

“Novo Nordisk currently charges Americans with type 2 diabetes $969 a month for Ozempic, while this same exact drug can be purchased for just $155 in Canada and just $59 in Germany,” Sanders wrote in April. “Novo Nordisk also charges Americans with obesity $1,349 a month for Wegovy, while this same exact product can be purchased for just $140 in Germany and $92 in the United Kingdom.”

Yale researchers, meanwhile, published a study in JAMA in March estimating that both drugs could be manufactured for less than $5.

In May, Novo Nordisk responded with a letter to Sanders, arguing that blame for high prices in the US lies with the country’s complex health system and with middle managers who take cuts, according to Bloomberg. Novo Nordisk said in the letter that it is prepared to address “systemic issues so that everyone who can benefit from its medicines is able to get them,” the outlet reported. The company also said it has spent over $10 billion on research and development to bring Wegovy and Ozempic to the market.

Still, that number is small in comparison to the projected revenue from the drugs. Bloomberg noted that analysts estimate that Novo Nordisk will make $27 billion from the two drugs this year alone. The May analysis by the HELP committee found that if just half of the adults in the US with obesity start taking a new weight-loss drug, such as Wegovy, the collective cost would be around $411 billion per year. Another report by the Congressional Budget Office found that the drugs’ costs are so high that they will not be offset by any financial gains from improved health outcomes.

“The Committee looks forward to Mr. Jørgensen explaining why Americans are paying up to 10 or 15 times more for these medications than people in other countries,” Sanders said last week.


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