Sanders launches investigation into ‘unacceptable’ diabetes, weight loss drug prices

April 25, 2024

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, on Wednesday launched an investigation into the “outrageously high prices” of Novo Nordisk’s respective diabetes and weight loss drugs, Ozempic and Wegovy.

On Wednesday, Sanders penned a letter to Novo Nordisk’s chief executive officer, Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, notifying him of the investigation and laying out his concerns with various price discrepancies between the drugs and pointing out concerns about the drugs’ pricing.

“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 said.

“As important as these drugs are,” Sanders continued, “they will not do any good for the millions of patients who cannot afford them.”

Ozempic and Wegovy have the same active ingredient – semaglutide – but they have different doses and strengths. Ozempic is FDA-approved for type 2 diabetes while Wegovy is approved for weight loss.

In his letter, Sanders questioned why the two medications would be priced differently from each other and priced differently from other countries.

Ozempic costs $969 a month for type 2 diabetes in the United States, but it costs $155 in Canada and $59 in Germany, Sanders said. Wegovy costs $1,349 a month for weight loss in the U.S., compared to $140 in Germany and $92 in the United Kingdom.

Sanders cited a recent report from Yale University that he said found the drugs could be profitably manufactured for less than $5 a month.

“The result of these astronomically high prices is that Ozempic and Wegovy are out of reach for millions of Americans who need them,” Sanders said. “Unfortunately, Novo Nordisk’s pricing has turned drugs that could improve people’s lives into luxury goods, all while Novo Nordisk made over $12 billion in profits last year — up 76 percent from 2021. That is unacceptable.”

Sanders warned the high prices could bankrupt key programs like Medicare and Medicaid, “if the prices for these products are not substantially reduced,” adding, “The United States Congress and the federal government cannot allow that to happen.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk said the company is “proud of the work our scientists have done to advance innovation and improve the lives of people with chronic diseases,” and said it was “humbling” to see the medications helping people.

“We agree with the Chairman that access to these important treatments is essential for patients in Medicare, Medicaid and the commercial markets.

“It’s easy to oversimplify the science that goes into understanding disease and developing and producing new treatments, as well as the intricacies of U.S. and global healthcare systems. However, the public debate doesn’t always take into account this extremely complex reality. Novo Nordisk remains committed to working with policymakers to advance solutions to support access and affordability for all patients, and we reiterated this commitment in our conversation with Chairman Sanders,” the statement read.

Sanders asked the CEO if he would “substantially reduce both the list price and the net price of both Ozempic and Wegovy.” Sanders also requested information by May 8 on the internal decision making, how much profit the company makes and how those prices are determined.