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Denmark and Novo Nordisk Get Rich Because Americans Are Fat

Ozempic and Wegovy (semaglutide) are making Novo Nordisk wealthy. Americans are fat and they want a quick fix! They pay more than anyone else

The Danish pharmaceutical manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, has become one of Europe’s most successful companies. That’s largely thanks to its diabetes drug Ozempic and its weight loss medication Wegovy. Both contain the active pharmaceutical ingredient called semaglutide. Demand for the drugs has been soaring at an unprecedented rate. This has had a profoundly positive impact on Denmark’s economy. Should the Danish government and the drug company Novo Nordisk reap huge financial rewards because Americans are fat and there are no controls on US drug prices?

How Successful Are Wegovy and Ozempic?

Novo Nordisk launched Ozempic in the US in early 2018 to treat diabetes. Sales were decent, but it had not yet turned into a blockbuster drug. That year, Novo Nordisk had net sales of $17.7 billion. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly the biggest drug company in the world.

The identical injectable medication, semaglutide, was approved by the FDA in 2021 to treat obesity under the name Wegovy.

When it gave Wegovy the green light, the FDA required this statement about the once-weekly shot:

“…for chronic weight management in adults with obesity or overweight with at least one weight-related condition (such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol), for use in addition to a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity.

“WEGOVY is indicated as an adjunct to a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity for chronic weight management in adults who have a high body mass index (BMI).”

Elon Musk and Social Media:

In 2022 Elon Musk responded on Twitter (now X) that he had lost weight by “fasting” and taking “Wegovy.” That message, together with other social media stories about fast weight loss changed Novo Nordisk’s financial future! By 2022, Novo Nordisk was beginning to see the semaglutide tsunami.

According to Natalie Rice for CNBC (Oct. 11, 2023):

“Ozempic accounted for more than 65% of total prescriptions as of the end of 2022.

“And it was only up from there: In the first six months of 2023, sales of Ozempic and Wegovy rose by 58% and 363%, respectively.

“There has not been any performance near what we’ve seen over the last year or two,” said Jared Holz, health care sector specialist at Mizuho, adding that semaglutide alone could be worth up to $300 billion annually over time.”

Americans Are Fat!

There is no nice way to say this. Americans are fat! I know it’s not politically correct. But I am not standing in judgment; I am just stating a fact.

Here is what the CDC says:

• “The US obesity prevalence was 41.9% in 2017 – March 2020. (NHANES, 2021)
• From 1999 –2000 through 2017 –March 2020, US obesity prevalence increased from 30.5% to 41.9%. During the same time, the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. (NHANES, 2021)
• Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.”

More stats prove Americans are fat:

More than 1 in 3 men and more than 1 in 4 women are overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health.

• “More than 2 in 5 adults (42.4%) have obesity.
• About 1 in 11 adults (9.2%) have severe obesity.”

Americans Are Fat and They Want a Quick Fix!

Losing weight is hard. I know that from personal experience. My body seems to want me to weigh 178 pounds. Over many decades I keep returning to that number like a homing pigeon.

I have gotten down to 168 after emergency surgery. At other times my weight has soared to over 200 pounds. But I keep coming back to 178. I would love to take a drug to get me down to my high school weight around 160. But I do not want to experience serious drug side effects.

Other people seem not to care very much about adverse reactions associated with semaglutide, though.

Wegovy and Ozempic Boosting Denmark’s Economy:

In 2023 Novo Nordisk became Europe’s most valuable company, worth over $400 billion. The company’s value was greater than Denmark’s gross domestic product (GDP). The share price of Novo is up more than 40% this year.

Wegovy and Ozempic are so successful that Barclay’s (a big British bank) is telling investors to short Pepsi Company stock. That’s presumably because the bank anticipates demand for snacks like Doritos and Cheetos will diminish and people will drink less Pepsi. The bank also predicts that other packaged foods could also see slower sales.

Americans Pay MORE for Drugs!

There is another reason that Novo Nordisk is rolling in dough! Yes, Americans are fat, but we also pay more for drugs than most other people in the world. The Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker offered a fascinating glimpse into price differences. The article (Aug. 17, 2023) was titled:

“How do prices of drugs for weight loss in the U.S. compare to peer nations’ prices?”

A one-month supply of Wegovy is listed at $1,349. In Germany, the price is $328 and in the Netherlands it is $296.

A one-month supply of Ozempic is listed as $936. In Japan it’s $169. In Canada it’s $147. In Sweden it’s $96 and in France the cost is $83.

The Downside to GLP-1 Agonists Such as Semaglutide:

With such enormous popularity, researchers have also been learning about potential side effects of these medications, known as GLP-1 agonists. An analysis of data for 16 million patients from the PharmMetrics Plus database compared adverse effects of GLP-1 agonists to those of another unrelated weight loss drug, bupropion-naltrexone (known by the brand name Contrave). The data were published in JAMA, Oct. 5, 2023.

The GLP-1 agonists were far more likely to cause gastrointestinal complications including pancreatitis, bowel obstruction and stomach paralysis known as gastroparesis. You can read more about gastroparesis and ileus at this link.

Some readers describe the side effects of these drugs as “intestinal apocalypse.” You can read about this troublesome complication at this link.

Final Words:

What do you think? Should Novo Nordisk be getting rich because Americans are fat and have to pay far more for medications than most people in the developed world?

Have you been prescribed Ozempic or Wegovy? How well did the drugs work to help you control weight? What about side effects? Please share your experience in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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