Bernie Sanders is taking on Ozempics’ astronomically high price tag

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is targeting one of Big Pharma’s newest cash cows: the latest generation of effective obesity drugs. Wednesday, Sanders office announced that the senator is launching an investigation into Novo Nordisk over the astronomically high list prices of its drugs Wegovy and Ozempic. Both drugs can cost about $1,000 a month or more without insurance coverage.

Wegovy and Ozempic are made with the same active ingredient, semaglutide, which is a long-acting mimic of the hormone GLP-1. Ozempic was approved in 2017 to treat type 2 diabetes, while Wegovy was approved in 2021 to treat obesity. Although not formally approved for obesity, Ozempic has been increasingly prescribed off-label. In clinical trials, those taking Wegovy have lost an average of 15% of their starting weight, well above the typical success seen with diet and exercise alone or with older medications.

The years since Wegovys approval have solidified its effectiveness as a treatment weight loss and beyond. Clinical trials have found that GLP-1 therapy can reduce the risk of obesity-related complications, such as heart and kidney disease, and some studies have suggested that it may even help reduce unhealthy cravings of alcohol and other drugs. In November 2023, Eli Lilly’s tirezapatide was approved to treat obesity. This drug, which improves its effectiveness by combining GLP-1 with another hormone, has significantly strengthened its potential. drug class as a whole

As impressive as these drugs have been, however, they haven’t been cheap, at least in the US. In terms of list price, a supply of Ozempic can be as high as $1,000 per month, while Wegovy can cost more than $1,300 per month. While some users are lucky enough to pay much less, insurance coverage for these drugs has been spotty and often short-lived. High list prices also burden public payers like Medicare, which can lead to drug rationing and restrictive criteria for patient eligibility (Medicare is explicitly prohibited from covering obesity drugs in general, but these drugs may be covered if they treat another approved condition, such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease). And in many other countries, out-of-pocket costs are substantially lower.

It is this disparity that Sanders, in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, hopes to address.

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. As important as these drugs are, they will be of no use to the millions of patients who cannot afford them, Sander wrote in his letter informing Novo Nordisk of the committee’s investigation.

Sanders notes that Novo Nordisk made more than $12 billion in profit last year, a 76% increase over 2021, which was made possible in large part by the arrival of Wegovy. And while drugmakers certainly have the right to recoup the large sums of money needed to research and develop their products, Sanders argues that the company is driving up prices, particularly to Americans. Ozempic and Wegovy can cost between $100 and $150 in countries like Germany and the UK. A recent study by researchers at Yale and others also estimated that a month’s supply of Ozempic could be manufactured for less than five dollars a month, even allowing for a profit margin.

High prices, poor insurance coverage and regular drug shortages have helped foster a growing black market for them. People can pay much less for compounded or counterfeit versions of semaglutide (around $200 to $300 per month), though with no guarantee of its safety and effectiveness. And there are have already been informed of people who are injured as a result.

Given the growing popularity of these drugs and the potential patient base (more than 40% of American adults are obese), Sanders is also concerned about how these high costs will affect the stability of local and federal public payment systems, like Medicare, which move. come in.

[I]If the prices of these products are not substantially reduced, they have the potential to bankrupt Medicare, Medicaid, and our entire health care system. The United States Congress and the federal government cannot allow this to happen, Sanders wrote in his letter.

Among other things, the committee’s inquiry will ask Novo Nordisk to provide details on how its prices for both drugs were determined, as well as an accounting of the expenses needed to bring them to market.

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