Ozempic Maker Novo Nordisk Competes for China

Novo Nordisk faces fierce competition with cheaper China-made versions of its popular weight loss drugs.
July 20, 2024
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China is estimated to have the world’s largest obese population.

According to media reports, experts at the China Obesity Conference (COC2023) shared that over 50% of Chinese adults are overweight or obese (~706 million people, more than 2x that of the entire U.S. population), and that number is increasing.

On Tuesday, Novo Nordisk, the multinational pharmaceutical company behind popular weight-loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, said that Chinese health officials approved Wegovy for sale as a weight-loss drug. Its other drug, Ozempic, has been available in China since 2021, and the company reported sales in China of $452 million last year.

Novo Nordisk has a short window: Mainland China is a key growth area for the company. However, its patent on semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, is set to expire in China in 2026.

The competition is heating up: At least 15 generic versions of Ozempic and Wegovy are being developed by Chinese companies, and 11 Chinese semaglutide drug candidates are in the final stages of clinical trials. American manufacturers like Eli Lilly, whose diabetes drug Mounjaro received approval from China in May, also compete in the market.

One issue to watch is price. China’s stagnant economy is making more of its population price-sensitive, which could leave room for considerable growth in cheaper Chinese-made copycat drugs.

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