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Backed by celebrity interest, Novo is finding new success in weight loss — while staying true to its roots

Although Doug Langa has been at Novo Nordisk for 12 years, his first meaningful exposure to the company’s work occurred through a personal experience.

“I have three kids and have been married for 27 years … and 14 years ago, we tried to figure out why our son wasn’t growing,” Langa, who’s spent three decades in various senior level positions related to sales and market access, said.

Ultimately, Langa’s son was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency — and after doing research, Langa discovered Danish-based Novo is a leader in that market.

“He did get on (Novo’s) wonderful device and was able to self-inject it for the first time, which gave him a sense of empowerment. And at the time he was projected to be 5’2” but he’s now 5’9”. It changed his life,” Langa said. “That’s what inspired me to come to Novo Nordisk.”

Now the company’s executive vice president, head of North America Operations and president of Novo Nordisk Inc., Langa said his tenure at Novo has revealed that it is indeed the kind of “purpose driven” company he hoped it would be.

It’s also a company embarking on a fresh mission to evolve on multiple fronts.

Weight loss and beyond

Approved in 2021, Novo’s weight loss medication Wegovy has quickly become one of the company’s biggest success stories in recent years. In fact, demand for the injectable weight management drug, which is made from the same semaglutide ingredient found in its insulin products Ozempic and Rybelsus, has been so high that after it was launched, Novo quickly ran out of stock.

“Demand exceeded expectations,” Langa admits. “That speaks to the unmet need.”

Novo’s semaglutide drugs have also been buoyed recently by their popularity among America’s high society. Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, took to Twitter to talk about his recent weight loss saying it came down to “fasting” in one tweet, followed up in another tweet by: “And Wegovy.”

Wall Street Journal report this month also revealed how Ozempic has become trendy among celebrities for its off-label weight loss effects.

“This is the Hollywood drug,” an executive producer on the show “The Millionaire Matchmaker” told the WSJ, while noting that its popularity among the elite is “nationwide.”

At the same time, the company is also looking at ways to grow from its roots.

Evolving insulin

Novo first began making insulin in 1923 and today is one of three insulin makers who control 90% of the world’s supply for the drug, according to the WHO. Despite this dominance of the major market for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients, Novo hasn’t been resting on its laurels and is pushing innovation in the space.

Earlier this month, the company released positive phase 3a data for a once-weekly version of a basal insulin drug that was tested on patients with Type 2 diabetes. Novo said in a statement that the recent results for the product, icodec, build on previous positive trials and “demonstrate that insulin icodec has the potential to be an ideal insulin for people with Type 2 diabetes.”

“When you think about Novo, you think about a company with a strong execution in diabetes, obesity and rare diseases. But we’re moving into new therapeutic areas, and that’s really exciting.”Doug Langa Executive VP, head of North America Operations, president of Novo Nordisk Inc., Novo Nordisk

If ultimately approved, Langa said icodec’s once-weekly formulation would be the “first of its kind” in the insulin space and a “game changer” for diabetes patients.

Novo now plans to file a regulatory submission for icodec in the first half of next year. And as it looks toward a rollout strategy for the drug, the company is not naïve to the intense pricing scrutiny surrounding insulin.

“We have been through challenging access dynamics in this category and we have worked through them,” Langa explained, noting the multiple ways Novo has strived to improve access to insulin by partnering with retailers such as Walmart to provide lower-cost versions of insulin and creating patient assistance programs such as NovoCare

“Approximately 100,000 patients receive free insulin every year and in 2021, more than one million people used some form of Novo Nordisk assistance when buying our insulins,” Langa said, adding that, “net prices for Novo Nordisk insulins in the U.S. have continued to decline over the past five consecutive years.”

Still, regulators have been pushing for more control over drug prices and measures within the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed by President Joe Biden in August, could eat into insulin revenues. In particular, analysts have predicted that new negotiating power by Medicare could reduce projected sales for two Novo insulin products — Ozempic and Rybelsus — by 8% through 2031.

Langa said that although Novo supports certain measures in the IRA — such as the $35 monthly cap on out-of-pocket expenses for insulin — Medicare negotiations could hurt patients by giving them fewer choices in the market and driving up costs.

“It (also) does not address misaligned incentives in the healthcare system,” he said. “It’s going to be more bureaucratic in the end and more expensive for patients.”

As Novo braces for the impact of these changes on a major part of its business, its looking to drive growth beyond diabetes. Beyond its rising profile in obesity, Novo is making moves in new categories.

The company announced Sept. 1 a plan to acquire Forma Therapeutics, a clinical stage biotech that specializes in sickle cell disease and rare blood disorders. Novo said the deal, valued at $1.1 billion, is aligned with the company’s strategy to “complement and accelerate its scientific presence and pipeline in hemoglobinopathies, a group of disorders in which there is abnormal production or structure of the hemoglobin protein in the red blood cells.”

Langa said that new endeavors in other areas of pharma — including NASH, cell therapies and other chronic diseases — are on the way.

“When you think about Novo, you think about a company with a strong execution in diabetes, obesity and rare diseases,” he said. “But into the future, we’re moving into new therapeutic areas, and that’s really exciting.”




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