Firm behind Wegovy raked in £4.5billion due to weight loss jab success

How pharmaceutical titan behind Wegovy raked in £4.5billion due to success of the weight loss jab – as stock of the drug arrives in Britain

  • Danish pharma titan Novo Nordisk’s profits soared in the first half of 2023

After hitting the US market to rave reviews earlier this year, miracle-weight loss jab Wegovy is finally available in the UK.

And its success was such that it saw profits soar for Danish firm Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical giant behind the jab, which raked in a whopping £4.5billion for the first half of this year.

Novo Nordisk credited this rise – up by a third, or £1.3billion, on the previous spell – to the sky-high demand for its weekly semaglutide jabs. The demand has made Novo Europe’s most valuable listed company.

Wegovy, shown to help patients reduce body weight by around 15 per cent when used alongside exercise and lifestyle changes, is so far available in the United States, Norway, Denmark, Germany, and as of Monday, the UK. Ozempic is another popular brand of semaglutide jab.

UK-based Simple Online Pharmacy today revealed it had received stock of the jab, but it is not yet known if the NHS has too.

Praised by celebrities including Elon Musk and Jeremy Clarkson, semaglutide jabs are proven to help overweight patients lose up to 21lbs in just over a year by suppressing their appetites. Doctors are giving the drug to ‘more patients than ever before’, Novo Nordisk said. 

Semaglutide is sold as Wegovy for those who are overweight or obese

Celebrities including Elon Musk, Jeremy Clarkson and Remi Bader have spoken out about the ‘genuinely incredible’ Ozempic, which suppresses appetite and leaves users feeling fuller

Danish pharmaceutical titan Novo Nordisk raked in £4.5billion during the first half of 2023 — up by a third, or £1.3billion , on the previous spell

A Novo spokesperson said deliveries of Wegovy to a UK wholesaler had begun, but declined to comment on Simple Online Pharmacy’s statement that it had already received the drug.

Novo delivers its medicines to the wholesaler, which is then in control of onward distribution, the spokesperson said, declining to name the wholesaler involved.

However, the intense demand across the world is causing huge supply issues.

Wegovy will only be given to overweight people, unlike Ozempic, a semaglutide jab by another brand name, which is licensed solely for diabetics.

Novo Nordisk said when announcing what it called a ‘limited and controlled’ launch in the UK that Wegovy will be available on the NHS’ weight management scheme and ‘privately through a registered healthcare professional’.

Some doctors and medical experts warned on Monday that Brits who can afford to pay out of their own pocket may get easier access to Wegovy than those seeking treatment in the country’s state-run health service.

READ MORE: What IS semaglutide? Everything you need to know about weight loss wonder drug loved by Hollywood stars like Kim Kardashian

The NHS did not immediately respond to a query on Tuesday morning about whether it had received stocks of Wegovy.

Novo Nordisk revealed it is also restricting supply in the US, as the company struggles to keep up with demand. 

Semaglutide works by hijacking the brain to suppress appetite and reduce calorie intake, resulting in substantial weight loss. It does this by mimicking the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which is released after eating.

It was nicknamed Hollywood’s worst kept secret, with fans including Elon Musk and Jeremy Clarkson.

Even Kim Kardashian was rumoured to have used it to rapidly lose 16lbs (7.3kg) to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress at the 2022 Met Gala.

Novo Nordisk’s financial report for the first half of 2023 shows it made a net profit of 39.2billion Danish kroner (£4.5billion) up from 27.5billion kroner (£3.2billion) the previous year.

The company — Europe’s second most valuable behind luxury goods firm LVMH — said the trend was ‘mainly driven by’ a 49 per cent boost in sales for GLP-1 diabetes drugs. 

Wegovy and Ozempic, which both contain semaglutide, work by triggering the body to produce a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 that is released naturally from the intestines after meals

Jeremy Clarkson (left) revealed this month that he was taking Ozempic in a bid to lose weight. When asked in October whether following a healthier diet or hitting the gym was behind his 30lb (13.6kg) weight loss, Elon Musk (right) credited ‘fasting’ and ‘Wegovy’

In total, sales for these drugs came to 99billion kroner (£11.5billion).

Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, president and chief executive of Novo Nordisk, said: ‘We are very pleased with the sales growth in the first half of 2023. 

‘The growth is driven by increasing demand for our GLP-1-based diabetes and obesity treatments, and we are serving more patients than ever before.’

He added that obesity is a ‘serious chronic disease’ and weight-related conditions ‘can be significantly reduced by treating people with semaglutide’.

It comes after a study this week of 17,600 people showed that overweight or obese adults who take Wegovy are a fifth less likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes. 

Trial results show that nine in ten Wegovy users lose 5 per cent of their body weight over the course of 68 weeks, while three in ten lose a fifth.

READ MORE: Weight loss drug can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes in high-risk patients by a FIFTH with just an injection, major trial suggests

The weekly injection reduced their risk of a major cardiovascular event like a stroke or heart attack by 20 per cent compared to a placebo, Novo said 

Participants also slashed their calorie intake and upped the amount of exercise they were doing.

However, like all medication, it has side effects. 

Headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea are among the most common. Some also suffer from acid reflux, fatigue and complain that food tastes different after using the drug.

It is this side effect that some people credit for further assisting their weight loss — by making their favourite junk foods taste bad.

Other rarer side effects include gallstones, inflammation of your pancreas — known medically as pancreatitis — and an increased risk of low blood sugar and kidney problems. 

The jab is also being investigated over fears it causes cancer after studies in mice and rats suggested that semaglutide could raise the risk of medullary thyroid cancer.

Trials have also shown that users can rapidly pile pounds back on once they stop taking the fat-fighting drug.

In March, Wegovy was approved by the UK’s medicines watchdog for up to  four million Brits who have one weight-related condition and a BMI of 30 or higher.

The drug has been available for weight management in the US since 2021 but is yet to launch in the UK due to supply difficulties. 

Despite being hailed as one of the most powerful pharmaceutical tools to date, experts have warned it is not a ‘magic pill’ or miracle fix all. Trials have shown that users can rapidly pile pounds back on once they stop taking the drug and it can trigger a variety of nasty side effects. Users commonly complain of nausea, constipation and diarrhoea

A UK study found that people who used Wegovy experienced rapid weight loss, dropping 18% of their weight over 68 weeks. They regained two-thirds of that weight, or 12% of their original body weight in the year after dropping the weekly injections

Meanwhile, Ozempic is given to type 2 diabetics to help control their blood glucose levels.

However, because it uses the same ingredient, it can help weight loss.

Health officials issued an alert last month warning that it ‘strongly discouraged’ off-label prescribing for those seeking to shift the scales, as it could leave diabetes patients without their vital medication.

Amid difficulties keeping up with demand, Novo Nordisk confirmed it would continue limiting Wegovy supplies in the US to ensure there are enough doses for existing patients. 

Mr Jorgensen said: ‘We’ve seen that the initiative we took earlier this year, limiting the starter dose, has actually helped manage those dynamics. So we want to extend that in the coming quarters.’

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