Novo faces new threat as Eli Lilly wins weight-loss aiding drug approval


It took some time, but Novo Nordisk may be facing the first real test of its dominance in the weight loss market after pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly won approval for its own Wegovy rival.

U.S. regulators signed off on Eli Lilly’s diabetes drug Zepbound, which can also be used to aid weight loss. The drug was found to help patients lose 18% of their body weight in control trials. 

“In light of increasing rates of both obesity and overweight in the United States, today’s approval addresses an unmet medical need,” said John Sharretts, a director at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. 

Eli Lilly’s other diabetes drug, Mounjaro, also won approval from U.K. regulators on Wednesday. It can be prescribed to obese and overweight patients in the country.

At $1,059.87 for a month’s supply, the injectable Zepbound comes in cheaper than Wegovy’s $1,349 price tag, though it is more expensive than Ozempic and Mounjaro. 

The drug’s side effects can include nausea and diarrhea, and it was proven to cause thyroid C-cell tumors in rats. It’s expected to be available at the end of the year.

With its latest approvals, Eli Lilly has pushed its way further into a potential goldmine.

The weight loss market could reach as high as $100 billion by 2035, according to BMO Capital Markets analyst Evan David Seigerman.

Novo Nordisk faces real test

Novo swept across the U.S. after its GLP-1 diabetes drugs, Ozempic and Wegovy, were proven to aid weight loss.

The revelation helped the company become the most valuable in Europe and outweigh the economy of its native Denmark, as its share price doubled in just over a year.

The group sold $900 million worth of Wegovy in the third quarter of 2023, with 95% of sales occurring in the U.S. Sales would have been higher if not for a supply shortage owing to unexpected demand.

Eli Lilly’s breakthrough is the latest reminder of the demand for weight loss products in the U.S. 

Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, Novo’s chief executive, said the company could ramp up its expansion in the U.S. at the expense of Europe if new regulations affecting drug exclusivity were introduced.

The company is already producing a lot of its new medicines in Boston, the Novo boss told the Financial Times.

“When we start clinical development, we start in the U.S. When we start commercial activity, we always start in the U.S.

“And the success in the U.S. means that we are slower getting going in Europe because it’s just less attractive.”

It’s also a reminder to some of the world’s biggest food suppliers that the weight loss raze isn’t going away.

Retailers like Walmart and producers like Nestle have acknowledged that consumers are likely to eat less as the average shopper becomes thinner. The latter says it’s working on “companion products” to account for new nutritional needs for shoppers on the medication.

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