Novo Nordisk defends $1,000 Ozempic list price

Novo Nordisk is contesting Sen. Bernie Sanders' calls to reduce the list prices of Ozempic and Wegovy in the U.S., Bloomberg reports. 

In late April, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, chaired by Mr. Sanders, launched an investigation into Novo Nordisk's list pricing for GLP-1 drugs. This followed research showing that Ozempic could be manufactured for less than $5 per month, significantly lower than the U.S. list price of nearly $1,000 for a monthly supply.

Mr. Sanders requested information from Denmark-based Novo Nordisk by May 8, but the drugmaker requested an extension to submit its responses. 

In a letter issued to Mr. Sanders May 24, Novo Nordisk said it is prepared to work with lawmakers to address "systemic issues so that everyone who can benefit from its medicines is able to get them," but argued that focus on its list prices for the drugs is misplaced since it retains about 60% of the list price of Ozempic and Wegovy in the U.S. after rebates and fees are paid to middlemen, Bloomberg reports. 

Novo Nordisk also said that focusing on the cost disparity is unfair because the development of the GLP-1 drugs required billions in upfront investment. The drugmaker said it spent over $10 billion to develop the GLP-1 medicines and that, "under current market conditions, the company expects that net prices will continue to decline for both Ozempic and Wegovy," Bloomberg reports.

In early May, Mr. Sanders' HELP committee released a report quantifying the financial threat GLP-1 drugs pose to the U.S. healthcare system under the current pricing structure. The report estimated that if half of Americans with obesity used weight loss drugs, the annual cost would be $411 billion; if half of all Medicare and Medicaid enrollees with obesity did the same, it would cost the government $166 billion each year.

"Today, Novo Nordisk charges Americans with type 2 diabetes $969 a month for Ozempic, while this same exact drug can be purchased for just $155 in Canada, $122 in Italy, $71 in France, and $59 in Germany," the HELP committee said in its May 15 report. "Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk lists Wegovy for $1,349 a month in the U.S. while this same exact product can be purchased for just $186 in Denmark, $137 in Germany and $92 in the United Kingdom." 

Payers, employers and health systems are feeling the increase in spending on GLP-1s. Medicare total spending hit $5.7 billion in 2022 for GLP-1s, up from $57 million in 2018, according to a March analysis from KFF.

Novo Nordisk also saw its findings on effects of Ozempic and Wegovy published in the New England Journal of Medicine the same day it submitted its letter to Mr. Sanders. The drugmaker reported that in a study of 3,500 participants, Ozempic and Wegovy slowed the progression of chronic kidney disease and reduced the risk of heart attack, kidney failure, stroke and death.

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