© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A 0.25 mg injection pen of Novo Nordisk’s weight-loss drug Wegovy is shown in this photo illustration in Oslo, Norway, September 1, 2023. REUTERS/Victoria Klesty/Illustration/File Photo
By Maggie Fick
LONDON (Reuters) – Novo Nordisk (NYSE:) launched its weight-loss injection Wegovy in Britain on Monday, expanding into a second major market in Europe in just over a month even as it struggles to keep up with soaring demand.
The Danish drugmaker said in a statement that the weekly injection would be available in the United Kingdom “through a controlled and limited launch”.
Surging demand for Wegovy, and Novo’s highly effective diabetes drug Ozempic, have sent the company’s shares and earnings to record highs. On Friday it unseated LVMH as Europe’s most valuable listed company, ending the French luxury group’s 2-1/2 year-long reign at the top.
The shares rose as much as 2.3% in mid-morning trading on Monday to a record high of 1,331 Danish crowns ($193). They have risen by 41% so far this year.
Wegovy, shown to help patients reduce body weight by around 15% when used along with exercise and lifestyle changes, is so far available in the United States, Norway, Denmark, and as of late July, Germany.
Novo’s inability to keep up with U.S. demand for Wegovy has effectively delayed the launch in most of Europe.
Reuters reported last week that Wegovy supplies were limited in Germany less than a month after its launch in Europe’s largest drug market, highlighting the challenge for Novo’s ambitions in Europe.
“We are closely monitoring Wegovy demand and are working with regulators and providers to ensure people living with obesity can have access to and remain on treatment,” Novo said.
The company and Britain’s drug cost-effectiveness watchdog NICE declined to comment on how much it would cost.
In an early indication of prices, UK-based online pharmacy chain Simple told Reuters it would charge private patients between 199 pounds and 299 pounds ($251-$377) for a monthly supply. That includes a consultation with a general practitioner, prescription and dispensing costs.
In the United States, the drug sells for as much as $1,350 a month.
In March, NICE recommended the use of Wegovy in adults with at least one weight-related condition and a body mass index of 35, but only within the National Health Service’s (NHS) specialist weight management scheme.
NICE’s recommendation also calls for Wegovy to be used “for a maximum of two years”.
Novo said the drug will be available on the NHS’ weight management scheme and “privately through a registered healthcare professional”.
It was not immediately clear what the implications would be of the drug being available through private healthcare professionals.
Two of the country’s leading private insurers, Aviva (LON:) and AXA Health, told Reuters that they would not pay for Wegovy.
“We do not cover the treatment as private medical insurance is only designed to cover acute conditions,” said a spokeperson for Aviva, which has 1.1 million UK customers with private medical insurance.
Novo did not say how much supply it would make available in Britain. It is working to convince European governments and insurers to reimburse Wegovy, seeking to position it as more than a lifestyle drug.
“As we expect supply to be constrained for the foreseeable future, a proportion of available supply will be allocated for use only within the NHS to allow healthcare professionals to implement NICE guidance,” the drugmaker said.
Around 50,000 eligible patients in England could be prescribed Wegovy through NHS specialist weight management services, an NHS spokesperson said in a statement.
Nearly one in three adults are obese in the United Kingdom, the highest in Europe, according to a 2019 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report.
Overweight-related illnesses account for 8.4% of health expenditure and when combined with lower labour market output, it reduces UK GDP by 3.4%, it said. Obesity is usually defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above.
Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer in the country and costs the NHS around 6.5 billion pounds annually, Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said in a statement on Monday.
Numan, which calls itself Britain’s leading online men’s healthcare company, told Reuters it is finalising its stock quota with Novo this week and intends to start prescriptions this month.
($1 = 6.8981 Danish crowns)