Novo Nordisk CEO agrees to testify on semaglutide pricing

Novo Nordisk’s chief executive Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen
Novo Nordisk

Novo Nordisk’ chief executive Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen has agreed to appear at a Senate hearing later this year to defend the pricing of the group’s semaglutide-based therapies for diabetes and obesity.

Jorgensen’s decision was revealed in a statement from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), who had threatened to subpoena the company to force Novo Nordisk’s North America operations chief, Doug Langa, to be available to answer questions at the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee hearing in early September.

In his announcement, Sanders said that Jørgensen had “reconsidered his position” and would now be available to discuss “the outrageously high prices that Novo Nordisk charges Americans for […] blockbuster drugs Ozempic and Wegovy.”

The HELP committee launched an investigation into the prices of Ozempic and Wegovy in April. Shortly after, a report issued by Sanders’ office claimed that the high prices being charged for new GLP-1 agonist-based obesity therapies like Wegovy and Eli Lilly’s Zepbound (tirzepatide) could end up bankrupting US healthcare systems and drive the US prescription medicines bill to around $1 trillion a year.

The report highlighted that Novo Nordisk currently charges Americans $969 a month for diabetes therapy Ozempic, but just $155 in Canada and $59 in Germany. Similarly, the list price for obesity therapy Wegovy is $1,349 a month in the US, compared to $140 in Germany and $92 in the UK.

It also referred to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in March that claimed that injectable semaglutide products can be profitably manufactured at less than $5 per month.

Sanders thanked Jørgensen for agreeing to attend, but said he is looking forward to him explaining “why Americans are paying up to ten or 15 times more for these medications than people in other countries.”

The hearing will come a few months after the CEOs of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), and MSD (known as Merck & Co in the US and Canada) testified before the HELP Committee on US drug pricing. They laid the blame squarely on middlemen in the market, including pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), claiming they do not pass on rebates and discounts to patients.

Novo Nordisk recorded sales of around $34 billion last year, of which around $18.5 billion came from Wegovy and Ozempic, almost double their 2022 sales.

The company has said it is continuing to cooperate with the HELP committee’s pricing investigation, but, according to a report in The Hill, had requested that Jørgensen not be the only industry representative in the GLP-1 agonist market to testify at the hearing.