Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical company behind the highly effective obesity treatment Wegovy, has announced that a recent large-scale study has revealed the drug’s clear cardiovascular benefits. This development is significant for Novo Nordisk as it aims to move beyond the perception of Wegovy as a mere lifestyle drug. Since its launch in the US in June 2021, Wegovy has gained immense popularity among patients, investors, and celebrities worldwide. Following Novo Nordisk’s announcement, the company’s shares soared by over 17%, reaching record highs. Over the past two years, the shares have surged by almost 165%.
The results of this late-stage trial could potentially convince insurers in the US and health authorities in Europe to cover the cost of Wegovy for a broader range of patients. Currently, the drug costs $1,300 (€1,185) per month in the US. In the US, weight-loss treatments are classified as lifestyle drugs. Novo Nordisk stated that the eagerly-awaited study results, which have not yet undergone peer review, demonstrated that patients who took Wegovy had a 20% lower incidence of heart attack, stroke, or death from heart disease compared to those who took a placebo. This result is significantly better than the 15% to 17% reduction anticipated by investors and analysts.
The study, known as Select, involved 17,500 overweight or obese individuals aged 45 years or older with a history of heart disease and no prior history of diabetes. The trial began nearly five years ago to investigate the potential medical benefits of the weekly injection. These results are likely to spark a debate on whether the long-term medical advantages are sufficient to alleviate the overall burden on healthcare systems and reduce the cost of treating heart disease in overweight and obese individuals.
Dr. Jeff Levin-Scherz, a consultant at Willis Towers Watson, which advises employers on benefits, commented that he believes “medical claims savings from this are years away.” He added that the drugs may prove to be cost-effective in terms of improving patients’ lives rather than reducing the total cost of care. Many large US companies, which previously covered weight-loss treatments as part of their employees’ healthcare benefits, have scaled back due to the rising costs.
However, the groundbreaking trial data demonstrates that Wegovy has “the potential to change how obesity is regarded and treated,” according to Martin Holst Lange, the executive vice president for development at Novo Nordisk. The company expects to seek regulatory approvals for an expanded label indication for the weekly injection in the European Union and the US later this year. Several other companies, including Pfizer and Amgen, are also working on weight-loss therapies similar to Wegovy, hoping to tap into a market estimated to be worth up to $100 billion by the end of the decade.
Wegovy, a weekly injection, helps patients feel fuller for longer and, when combined with dietary and exercise changes, leads to an average weight loss of about 15%. It belongs to a class of drugs called GLP-1 agonists, originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes. Eli Lilly is expected to receive US approval for its similar weight-loss drug, Mounjaro, later this year. Following the announcement, Lilly’s shares rose by nearly 16%.