Limestone Votive Toe

GLP-1 Supply Issues: Both Companies on Their Toes?

Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly updated their investors yesterday on their performance through the third quarter of 2023 and the word is that they are “raking in cash” from their new medicines that work so well in obesity. Gobs of money seem to be flowing to both companies, but the stories they were telling about GLP-1 supply issues were – at least superficially – somewhat different.

Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said he welcomes the competition:

“If you have a competitor that’s focused on innovation, it leads to a growing market and it also keeps both companies on their toes. So I think that’s a very, very positive situation to be in.”

But as we observe the situation, we can’t help but wonder if both companies are seriously considering the terrible problems that an inadequate supply of these medicines is causing for people who live with very poor health and quality of life because of obesity.

Are both companies really on their toes?

Novo: Expanding “Gradually”

The official word from Novo Nordisk was that the company is expanding their supply of semaglutide “gradually.” Jørgensen told investment analysts he can’t really say when an end to these supply problems will come:

“We don’t see a ‘hockey stick’ development where suddenly there’ll just be a significant ramp-up in sales.”

The company expresses confidence they can control the situation by restricting the sales of Wegovy’s lower doses which doctors use for starting new patients. But that puts patients who need low doses for continued therapy in a bind.

Lilly: “All Hands on Deck”

We heard a slightly different story from executives at Lilly. First of all, they are at an earlier stage than Novo, so we cannot possibly know what lies ahead for this company. They don’t yet have approval of Mounjaro (tirzepatide) for obesity, though they do expect it before the end of the year.

Nonetheless, they are enjoying brisk sales growth, in part because the data from tirzepatide studies in obesity are more impressive than much of the data for semaglutide. Despite all that growth, Lilly reports that “all doses are now listed as available on the FDA Drug Shortage Database.” The same is not true for Ozempic and Wegovy. Even so, Lilly CEO David Ricks sounded a bit more attentive to the challenges of meeting demand:

“This is really all hands on deck. We’re not at all happy with the capacity we’ve announced already. You’ll see more.”

Profound Effects on the Lives of Real People

There is no room for complacency. Both companies deserve credit for their innovative research that can yield profound benefits for the lives of people struggling to cope with obesity. Especially the trailblazer, Novo Nordisk.

But if they don’t meet the needs of patients with an adequate supply, real harm is the result. This week in the New York Times, Helen Ouyang described the harsh effects of GLP-1 supply issues on a 14-year-old with severe obesity, Eriyanna Stovall:

“Eriyanna was forced to stop Wegovy when the drug became unavailable to her this summer. She switched to an older, less effective GLP-1, but then that went on back-order too. ‘We are so devastated,’ her mother texted me recently. ‘It seems like a very big mountain we are climbing.’”

No. There is no room for complacency.

Click here, here, and here for more on GLP-1 supply issues and the results that Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly announced yesterday.

Limestone Votive Toe, fourth or third century B.C. Cypriot sculpture / Wikimedia Commons

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November 3, 2023