May 24, 2024

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders sent letter on Wednesday to Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen announcing that the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which Sanders chairs, has launched an investigation into the high prices the company charges for its blockbuster diabetes and weight loss dugs.

In the letter, Sanders called on Jørgensen to cut the prices of the company’s drugs, Ozempic and Wegovy. He also asked that Danish pharmaceutical giant to provide the committee with internal documents related to the price of these drugs in the U.S. The senator gave Novo Nordisk a May 8 deadline to address a series of questions and requests.

“The scientists at Novo Nordisk deserve great credit for developing these drugs that have the potential to be a game changer for millions of Americans struggling with type 2 diabetes and obesity,” Sanders wrote in the letter. “As important as these drugs are, they will not do any good for the millions of patients who cannot afford them.”

Sanders specifically criticized the higher list price these medication have in the U.S. compared to other countries. The price of Ozempic in the U.S. is $969, while it’s only $155 in Canada and $59 in Germany, for example. The list price of Wegovy in the U.S. is $1,349, while in Germany it’s $140.

The senator also warned that the drugs could potentially bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid. He cited researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Chicago that said it could cost over $150 billion a year for Medicare to cover Wegovy and other weight loss drugs.

“In my view, the American people should not have to pay up to $1,349 a month for prescription drugs that cost less than $5 to manufacture and can be purchased at a fraction of this price in other developed countries,” Sanders wrote, referencing a recent study that found it only costs $5 to produce a month’s supply of Wegovy and Ozempic.

“We agree with the Chairman that access to these important treatments is essential for patients in Medicare, Medicaid and the commercial markets,” Novo Nordisk said in an emailed statement to Quartz. “It’s easy to oversimplify the science that goes into understanding disease and developing and producing new treatments, as well as the intricacies of U.S. and global healthcare systems.”

The company previously noted, in response to the study, that it spent nearly $5 billion in research and development last year and that 75% of its gross earnings goes toward rebates and discounts for patients.

Demand for Ozempic and Wegovy has skyrocketed in the last year. The company reported in January that its 2023 sales jumped 31% to 232.3 billion Danish kroner ($33.8 billion). It also projects sales will increase by up to 26% in 2024.

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