Novo Nordisk has resumed shipping starter doses of its weight-loss drug Wegovy, nearly nine months after manufacturing problems forced it to restrict distribution to maintenance shots in order to ensure that people who had already started taking it could continue, the company said Wednesday.
The resumption of the starter doses, which begin at 0.25 milligrams per week, comes two months after obesity rival Eli Lilly gained U.S. approval for a competing drug, Zepbound, that could threaten to eat away at Novo’s sizable lead in weight-loss treatment.
Novo executives expect increasing demand for Wegovy in coming months as the Food and Drug Administration reviews data from a trial called SELECT, which found that the use of the drug in overweight people with heart disease reduces by one-fifth the relative risk of cardiovascular complications or death. While some people pay for Wegovy out of pocket, Novo hopes that insurers, including the Medicare program for people age 65 and older, will begin covering it when they can see the long-term medical benefit.
The disclosure that the starter dose supply had been resumed came alongside the Danish company’s fourth quarter earnings announcement. Total company sales of 232.3 billion Danish kroner, or $33.7 billio, represented a 36% increase in constant exchange rates. Sales from its obesity business more than doubled to 41.6 billion kroner.
Novo’s portfolio of GLP-1 drugs, which includes Wegovy and the diabetes shot Ozempic, recorded sales of 164.8 billion kroner, with the diabetes side of that business increasing by 52%. Ozempic contains the same active ingredient in Wegovy and is often used off-label as a weight-loss drug.
These increases offset declines in insulin and rare diseases. Under pricing and political pressure, the insulin business shrank 6% to 48 billion kroner, while rare diseases, which include treatments for hemophilia and endocrine disorders, fell 15% to 17 billion kroner.
For 2024, Novo’s executive team forecast sales growth of 18 to 26%, even as its high-growth GLP-1 drugs face competition from Lilly’s products.
“We’re not competing for share given the magnitude of the market,” said CFO Karsten Munk Knudsen in a call with investment analysts.