Novo Nordisk– Investigating the Unique Corporate Framework of the Pharmaceutical Powerhouse Behind Ozempic and Wegovy

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As we enter 2024, the new year presents opportunities for emerging wellness trends. While previous years were dominated by discussions around mental health and COVID variants, there has been a noticeable shift in global health concerns since the conclusion of 2022. One area that has gained prominence is weight management, and weight loss drugs are at the forefront of this conversation. GLP-1 (Glucagon-Like Peptide-1), a class of medications originally designed to manage blood sugar levels in people with Type II diabetes, has captured substantial media attention. Unlike traditional methods such as exercise, these medications and pills demonstrate efficacy in aiding weight loss for non-diabetic patients, establishing a formidable presence in the public consciousness as individuals seek innovative ways to slim down.

The Buzz Around New GLP-1 Drugs

Why are these new GLP-1 drugs garnering attention from consumers in the early 2020s? Even in the mid-2000s, there was already an addressable market for weight loss drugs. Approximately 66% of U.S. adults were either overweight or obese. This estimation is based on data from the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (4). Despite this, most pharmaceutical companies hesitated to invest in weight loss research and development due to the perceived risks and challenges. The market for weight loss drugs remained small because previous solutions lacked safety and efficacy, leaving people wary.

Novo Nordisk: The Danish pharmaceutical powerhouse behind Wegovy and Ozempic

In the past year, Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical company responsible for groundbreaking weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, achieved a remarkable feat: it surpassed LVMH to become Europe’s most valuable company, thanks to soaring success and demand for their effective weight loss and diabetes drugs (as discussed on The Acquired podcast, Season 14, Episode 1). In the fiercely competitive pharmaceutical industry where patents play a pivotal role in determining success, Novo Nordisk’s patent for semaglutide (a GLP-1 receptor agonist), remains valid until 2032, ensuring substantial profits. The company wants to use these new riches for a good cause. What sets this multinational pharmaceutical giant apart in the industry, is its association with the world’s largest charitable foundation. As of the end of 2023, Novo Holdings, the majority shareholder of Novo Nordisk, managed assets worth nearly DKK 1,114 billion. This is approximately $163 billion in US dollars, making it the single largest charitable foundation globally (6). Such a title is even more impressive when considering that it dwarfs the renowned Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in size.

Despite all their financial achievements, Novo Nordisk makes their company mission clear: to drive change to eradicate diabetes—a commitment demonstrated by several initiatives, such as their stem cell research efforts for the treatment of type-1 diabetes starting in 2014 (1). An impressive 85% of their revenue is dedicated to metabolic disorders research, and the company has emerged as one of the largest life sciences and biotech investors worldwide (3). Novo Nordisk generously supports numerous life sciences initiatives through grants, emphasizing that the profit they generate is returned to society in the form of philanthropy.

Thus a thought-provoking question arises: Will Novo Nordisk maintain the same steadfast goal of curing diabetes, even if it means sacrificing profits? The answer remains complex. While their success is closely tied to ongoing treatments, the pursuit of a cure could potentially disrupt their current revenue streams. Balancing financial interests with the greater goal of improving health outcomes presents a challenging dilemma for any pharmaceutical company. Ultimately, the decision lies at the intersection of business, ethics, and public health. Novo Nordisk’s actions will continue to shape the landscape of diabetes treatment, and its commitment to innovation remains crucial in addressing this global health challenge.

The Global Disparity: Weight Loss Drug Shortages in the US Expose Issues in the Healthcare System

The current landscape of weight-loss medications, such as Ozempic and Wegovy, presents a discouraging financial barrier for diabetic patients. In the United States, these drugs come with a hefty price tag: approximately $1000 for Ozempic and an even steeper $1300 for Wegoby per month before insurance coverage. In comparison, patients in Canada pay a more reasonable $147 per month for Ozempic, while in the UK, it’s an even more accessible $93 per month (3).

This high cost, coupled with supply shortages due to increasing demand, raises serious concerns about the accessibility of these drugs for those who need them most. In October 2023, Scientific American brought attention to this matter, emphasizing that most private insurance companies and federal health programs do not cover weight-loss drugs. Since 2003, Medicare, the federal health insurance program, has been explicitly prohibited by law from offering coverage for weight loss treatments, partly due to safety concerns associated with these medications (5). While there is likely a rampant usage of weight-loss drugs in wealthy New York neighborhoods and Hollywood, where affluent individuals often pay out of pocket for these drugs, in most cases, private insurers cover weight-loss medications under specific company insurance plans. The mismatch between individual health investment (which spans a lifetime) and insurance carriers’ shorter-term focus creates a disconnect. We invest in our health for our entire lives, but insurance companies prioritize their interests during the relatively brief period they cover a patient. On average, Americans hold a private-sector job for just 3.7 years. Insurance companies tend to churn policies every 3.7 years, focusing on services that yield quick returns or are deemed essential by employers to stay competitive (3). As a result, treatment for long-term health goals such as weight loss and diabetes become out-of-pocket costs. In 2024, the increasing use of off-label drugs is expected to compound the challenges posed by existing weight loss drug shortages (2). The U.S. Congress is now pushing for Medicare to cover weight loss medications through the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2023. As of December 2023, the bill is pending further action, but if passed it could pave the way for improved accessibility to anti-obesity drugs (7).


(1) “Collaboration between Lund University Researchers and Novo Nordisk Paves the Way for Large-Scale Cell Therapy against Parkinson’s Disease.”, 26 Mar. 2024, Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

(2) Gilbert, Daniel. “Prescriptions for Ozempic and Similar Drugs Have Skyrocketed, Data Shows.” Washington Post, The Washington Post, 27 Sept. 2023, Accessed 11 Feb. 2024.

(3)“Novo Nordisk (Ozempic) | Acquired Podcast.”, 2022, Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

(4) Products - Health E Stats - Overweight Prevalence among Adults 2003-2004. 2024, Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

(5) Tu, Lucy. “Should Insurance Cover Wegovy, Ozempic and Other New Weight-Loss Drugs?” Scientific American, 16 Oct. 2023, Accessed 11 Feb. 2024.

(6) Wikipedia Contributors. “Novo Holdings A/S.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Mar. 2024, Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

(7) Young, Lauren J. “5 Ways Ozempic and Other New Weight-Loss Drugs Have Changed Health.” Scientific American, 29 Dec. 2023, Accessed 11 Feb. 2024.

More posts by Maya Hemmi.
Novo Nordisk– Investigating the Unique Corporate Framework of the Pharmaceutical Powerhouse Behind Ozempic and Wegovy
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