DENMARK —Novo Nordisk, a leading pharmaceutical company, announced on Tuesday that the launch of Wegovy (semaglutide) in Europe will face delays due to the company’s efforts to meet the high demand for the weight-loss treatment in the United States.

CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen acknowledged the challenges, stating, “In the short term, we are challenged because we cannot fully meet demand, but… we are strongly committed to make sure that patients over time will get the medicine they expect.”

While Wegovy has been available in the US since 2021, it has faced supply issues, leading Novo Nordisk to impose restrictions on lower doses of the once-weekly GLP-1 receptor agonist used by patients initiating treatment.

In contrast, although the product received approval in Europe last year, it has only been launched in Denmark and Norway thus far.

Novo Nordisk has encountered additional obstacles with a contract manufacturer, further hampering its ability to keep pace with the market demand.

Wegovy has catapulted the company to new heights, establishing it as the third-largest pharmaceutical company globally in terms of market capitalization, according to Refinitiv data.

This once-weekly injection has demonstrated an average weight loss of approximately 15% when combined with dietary and exercise modifications, making a significant impact on the obesity market.

However, Novo Nordisk is grappling with the challenge of meeting the overwhelming demand for Wegovy, despite investing billions of dollars in expanding its production capacity.

During a media call, Camilla Sylvest, executive vice president of commercial strategy and corporate affairs, mentioned that the launch of Wegovy in Europe will be “a little bit slower than originally planned.”

She also emphasized that the roll-out in Denmark and Norway will help inform Novo Nordisk’s strategy for introducing the drug in other European Union countries, particularly in terms of delivery devices.

In Europe, Wegovy is available in two forms: a single-use device, as approved in the US, and Novo Nordisk’s FlexTouch pre-filled pen, which offers four different doses across various strengths.

Regarding reimbursement in the US, Sylvest noted that Wegovy is currently available in 14 states under Medicaid.

Global obesity population to soar to 1.5 billion by 2035

Novo Nordisk recently shared alarming statistics, revealing that the global population of obese individuals currently stands at around 815 million, a notable increase from approximately 650 million in 2016.

Projections from the company indicate that the number of individuals affected by obesity is expected to reach a staggering 1.5 billion by 2035.

While the 2016 figure is sourced from the World Health Organization (WHO), the updated statistics are provided by the World Obesity Federation, a charitable association based in the UK that comprises national obesity organizations and has received funding from Novo Nordisk.

Despite the significant impact of Wegovy on weight loss, concerns have been raised by health authorities and investors alike.

Trials conducted by the company indicate that patients who discontinue the use of Wegovy tend to gradually regain most of the weight they had previously lost.

This phenomenon raises questions about the long-term effectiveness of the drug and its ability to sustain weight reduction beyond the treatment period.

It is worth noting that the WHO has cautioned against viewing highly-effective weight loss drugs, including Wegovy, as a panacea for combating the rapidly escalating rates of obesity worldwide.

While these treatments offer promising results, comprehensive and multi-faceted approaches involving lifestyle modifications, public health initiatives, and education remain vital in addressing this global health crisis.

Expanding beyond the US and Europe presents infrastructure challenges for Novo Nordisk. Jorgensen mentioned that insufficient cold-chain technology poses a “significant challenge” in making Wegovy available in many developing countries.

He added, “I think it will be a very long time before a product like Wegovy can go there.”

While some health authorities have expressed concerns about weight gain once individuals stop taking Wegovy, Novo Nordisk is actively addressing this issue.

Martin Lange, the company’s head of research and development, stated that they plan to investigate how patients can maintain weight loss after discontinuing the drug.

He mentioned potential approaches such as reducing doses or switching to another intervention but clarified that they are not currently at that stage of development.

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