Why Ozempic, different ‘revolutionary’ weight-loss medication are so costly

Why Ozempic, different ‘revolutionary’ weight-loss medication are so costly


Plenty of celebrities and outstanding businesspeople—together with Amy Schumer, Elon Musk, and Chelsea Handler—look slimmer this 12 months, and one buzzy new drug is accountable.

Ozempic, the drug that generated a celeb craze and made shedding kilos simpler than ever, is designed to deal with diabetes however has the modern aspect impact of reworking its takers’ cravings for meals. It’s additionally inspiring a brand new and increasing class of comparable drugs—however they’ll solely be accessible to the elite who pays out of pocket in the intervening time.

Created to deal with diabetes, Ozempic is commonly prescribed off-label for weight reduction as a result of it permits sufferers to lose as much as 1 / 4 of their physique weight and helps fight the long-term well being dangers of weight problems, together with coronary heart and renal illness. However antidiabetic medication like Ozempic and Mounjaro usually are not lined for weight problems—federal and most employee-sponsored well being insurances cowl it for treating diabetes solely. Solely Wegovy (the identical drug as Ozempic in a special dosage) is at the moment FDA authorised for weight problems, and that prices about $1,000 a month.

So the query is: why? Why are new weight-loss medication so inaccessible regardless of their potential to learn tens of thousands and thousands of Individuals?


In 2012, the Danish healthcare large Novo Nordisk initially developed the antidiabetic drug semaglutide, which is the lively substance within the firm’s drugs Ozempic and Wegovy. As Novo Nordisk holds a patent on semaglutide, it has basically been in a position to cost what the market helps, or what it needs, in response to the nonprofit Institute for Medical and Financial Assessment (ICER). A good value for the medication, relative to their well being profit, could be about 44% to 57% cheaper than what they’re at the moment offered for, the ICER estimated in 2022

The factor is, the construction of pharmaceutical patents incentivize Novo Nordisk to make as a lot cash as they will as shortly as doable—the semaglutide monopoly will lapse in 2032, when it may be manufactured generically. “[Novo Nordisk] has a monopoly for a really quick time period, or one thing near a monopoly,” Daniel Touchette, co-author of the ICER report, stated. “They’ve a really quick time to recoup as a lot revenue or cash as they will … in order that they’re going to cost as a lot as they will.” 

Additionally, for the reason that medical trials to create semaglutide price lots of of thousands and thousands, Novo Nordisk has to cost extremely to recoup the associated fee and switch a revenue for shareholders, added Touchette, who’s director of the College of Illinois Chicago’s pharmacoeconomic middle.

The corporate’s window of big profitability is probably going quick, as they already hear the footsteps of rivals comparable to Eli Lilly and Amgen shut behind them. However even when these rivals enter the market, it nonetheless isn’t seemingly that the low-income people who find themselves most closely affected by weight problems will have the ability to entry the medication for a number of years.

“Novo Nordisk believes the best method for the thousands and thousands of Individuals who want anti-obesity medicines to have the ability to entry and afford them is to make sure these medicines are lined by authorities and industrial insurance policy,” Novo Nordisk wrote in a press release to Fortune.

Leaping on the bandwagon

Pharmaceutical corporations are flocking to the market to create their very own weight-loss injections and drugs. Touchette calls these “me too” medication, referring to corporations eager to get in on exploding demand for Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide merchandise. “Me too” medication are totally different molecules which have the identical impact on the physique as current formulations. 

A slew of developments within the new technology of weight-loss medication had been introduced on the annual American Diabetes Affiliation convention from June 23 to 26, together with weight reduction drugs (Ozempic and Mounjaro are injectables) and an experimental compound by Lilly referred to as retatrutide, which is stronger than something that’s been launched. These merchandise might spell the top of Novo-supremacy within the weight-loss market, and even make the fading star out of date in comparative efficacy. 

New medication being developed might have well being advantages in areas in addition to weight reduction, Michael Manolakis, vp of pharmacy consulting at Aon, says. They may show to have optimistic cardiovascular and anti inflammatory results as nicely, he explains.

“These are revolutionary medication,” Manolakis tells Fortune. “We’re experiencing one thing right here that could be very, very totally different, very thrilling from a healthcare perspective, and really costly.”

Whereas nonetheless very costly to buy, the brand new weight-loss medication within the pipeline are less expensive to create than Ozempic and Wegovy, as a result of competitor corporations don’t carry the burden of being the innovator out there. In creating semaglutide, Novo Nordisk needed to undergo many rounds of pricey trials to show that their molecule was protected and efficient. However when different corporations carry related medication to market, their course of will probably be accelerated as a result of they don’t seem to be the originators of the drug class and thus require fewer trials. 

Eli Lilly’s retatrutide and tirzepatide (lively substance in Mounjaro) will seemingly hit the market subsequent 12 months, however that received’t decrease costs within the quick time period, in response to Tracy Spencer, nationwide pharmacy observe chief at Aon.

“They’re totally different brokers and so they act in another way in several mechanisms,” Spencer stated. “Proper now you’re self injectables versus oral merchandise. Transferring ahead, I don’t imagine that it’s going to drive the value level down anytime quickly.”

Lilly advised Fortune that it’s “persevering with to concentrate on making our affordability options accessible” for insured adults who have already got protection for Mounjaro.

Not sure-ance

If the value of recent weight-loss medication received’t deflate anytime quickly, most individuals can solely entry the remedies by way of medical health insurance. As of 2022, about 28,000 sufferers per 12 months was the “max or seemingly threshold that insurance coverage would cowl general” for brand spanking new weight-loss drugs within the U.S., Touchette says. That’s solely 0.1% of the 142 million overweight or chubby eligible inhabitants (staggered throughout 5 years). 

Proper now, Medicare is not going to cowl any weight-loss medication, and neither will most worker sponsored insurances. Nonetheless, Aon has seen a 165% quarter over quarter Q1 improve in weight-loss remedy prices in employer well being plans, and the overall spent for Wegovy in February 2023 was higher than all of This autumn 2022. Apart from being costly, a few of employers’ reticence in protecting these medication is that they’ve for use in perpetuity to keep up weight reduction, and that a big portion of the American inhabitants (40%) is taken into account overweight. Contemplating these elements, new weight-loss medication have the potential to be the costliest that insurers cowl.

Employer plan sponsors are conscious of the spike in demand for weight-loss drugs and are at the moment deliberating over whether or not the advantages of protecting these medication for weight reduction could be value the associated fee, Spencer says.

“Employer plan sponsors are considering their choices, the place this isn’t merely a price avoidance state of affairs for them,” she says. “The conversations that they’re having are to be sure that the funding they’re making may have the long run impression that they’re hoping for.”

Plan sponsors have to contemplate that protecting weight-loss medication could possibly be mirrored in premiums throughout the whole worker inhabitants—however these prices might finally be balanced out if the medication let folks finally keep away from extreme well being issues, Spencer provides. 

Whereas there isn’t a set timeline on employer insurance coverage making a call on such protection, federal protection for weight-loss therapy could also be occurring quickly, in response to Touchette. His group at College of Illinois Chicago has met with legislators and the Facilities for Medicare & Medicaid Providers about opening up some protection for the drugs, which is now unlawful.

It received’t be common, he stated, however will seemingly goal particular teams instantly comparable to folks with prediabetes and extreme weight problems. Legalization of any Medicare weight-loss protection could be a giant step for accessibility and affordability of the medication.

Federal protection of semaglutide and its progeny for weight reduction could possibly be an integral step in reducing costs throughout the drug class, in response to Kibum Kim, professor of pharmacy techniques, outcomes, and coverage at College of Illinois Chicago.

“If Medicare begins to cowl the drug beneath their protection through the IRA [Inflation Reduction Act], then it will be the set off to decrease the value and get protection for the bigger inhabitants.”


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