May 30, 2024

Danish pharma giant Novo Nordisk, the maker of the popular diabetes and weight loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, has a prominent admirer in its home country.

Denmark’s Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, called the medications “fantastic” and said she was “huge fan” at a parliament debate, Bloomberg reported. 

“I’m probably not allowed to say that as prime minister. But I can just see how big a difference it makes in so many people’s lives,” Frederiksen said.

Her comments come as the skyrocketing sales of the highly-coveted medications have boosted Denmark’s economy. At the same, some governments — including Denmark’s — have expressed concerned over the drugs’ high prices.

Denmark’s GDP grew 1.8% in 2023 — and much of its boost is owed to the pharmaceutical industry, led by Novo Nordisk. Without pharmaceuticals, the Danish government agency Statistics Denmark said in February, the country’s GDP would have instead fallen 0.1%.

The trend is set to continue this year. The country’s largest bank, Danske Bank, forecasts that country’s GDP will grow 2.1% in 2024 and it’s primarily thanks to Novo Nordisk.

“The Danish economy performed much better than expected in the wake of high inflation and massive interest rate hikes,” the bank said in a press release. “Much of the reason is the huge success of pharma giant Novo Nordisk, which growth is pushing overall activity levels up.”

On the other hand, the rise of Ozempic has also put a heavy burden on Denmark’s public spending. In 2023, the Danish government spent about 8% of all its medicine costs — $200 million — on Ozempic, Bloomberg reported.

In response, the Danish Medicines Agency announced this month that it has decided to cut some subsidies for the drug. Starting this fall, the agency will only subsidize GLP-1s, the class of diabetes medications that Ozempic belongs to, for patients who can’t be treated with cheaper diabetes medications. The move is expected to shift half of current GLP-1 users to cheaper alternatives, according to the agency.

The Danish Medicines Agency decided not to cut all subsidies for the drug after Novo Nordisk slashed the price for Ozempic in the country to from $188 to $125. The agency said this cut alone would save the government over $70 million annually.

In the U.S., Sen. Bernie Sanders sent a letter to Novo Nordisk’s CEO asking the company reduce the price of Ozempic and Wegovy.

“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.”

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.

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