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Business News/ News / World/  Novo Nordisk pays $25.8 million to promote its obesity drug
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Novo Nordisk pays $25.8 million to promote its obesity drug

Novo Nordisk aims to reach 764 million obese people worldwide with its weight-loss product Wegovy.

FILE PHOTO: A 0.25 mg injection pen of Novo Nordisk's weight-loss drug Wegovy is shown in this photo illustration in Oslo, Norway, August31, 2023. REUTERS/Victoria Klesty/Illustration//File Photo (REUTERS)Premium
FILE PHOTO: A 0.25 mg injection pen of Novo Nordisk's weight-loss drug Wegovy is shown in this photo illustration in Oslo, Norway, August31, 2023. REUTERS/Victoria Klesty/Illustration//File Photo (REUTERS)

During his address, Dr. Lee Kaplan urged fellow doctors to use their prescription pads to fight the obesity crisis, according to a report by Reuters on December 1.

A Boston-area hotel hosted his annual obesity course, in which he told 400 doctors that diet and exercise alone have failed for decades. Dr. Kaplan, a leading U.S. weight-loss specialist, recommended turning to new weight-loss medicines like Novo Nordisk's Wegovy to reduce obesity.

Similarly to high blood pressure or diabetes, he said obesity should be treated aggressively with lifelong prescriptions. “We are going to have to use these medications," he said at the June gathering, “for as long as the body wants to have obesity."

Novo Nordisk's financial ambitions for Wegovy closely align with Kaplan's solution to America's obesity problem. Denmark's largest weight-loss firm is transforming itself from one known for diabetes medicines into one known for weight-loss products. According to Novo, the company aims to reach 764 million obese people around the world. A majority of Americans are overweight or obese, making it one of the most lucrative regions for the company. Drugs are often priced at the highest levels worldwide in the United States, where more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Weekly injections are charged by Novo at $1,300 per month for U.S. customers.

Novo's case can be strengthened by Kaplan, the chief of obesity medicine at Dartmouth College's medical school. As an Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Institute director at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard Medical School professor, he was 69 years old last year. According to a Reuters analysis of federal data, Novo has spent $1.4 million on Kaplan for consulting work and travel between 2013 and 2022.

The payments are part of an effort to persuade sceptical insurers to cover Wegovy, which has become one of the most widely prescribed drugs in history. Wegovy and Saxenda, Novo's two obesity drugs, were promoted by U.S. medical professionals at a cost of at least $25.8 million, according to the analysis.

The total includes only payments Novo reported it made specifically related to those two drugs; sometimes, it paid obesity specialists far more without mentioning any drugs. As an example, Novo reported paying Kaplan just $262,038 directly related to the two drugs, and $131,624 for an older diabetes medicine with the same active ingredient as Saxenda. A $976,019 additional payment was made by Novo to Kaplan without specifying a particular drug. Drugmakers have latitude in how they classify their spending on doctors, according to experts who study these payments.

Novo received payments for speaking, consulting, food, and travel, but not for research. Furthermore, Ozempic, a Novo diabetes drug with the same active ingredient as Wegovy, was excluded from the analysis.

During the period, 57 U.S. physicians received at least $100,000 each from Novo for Wegovy or Saxenda. An analysis of their credentials and publications by Reuters found that 41 of them are obesity specialists who run weight-management clinics, work at academic hospitals, write obesity guidelines or hold top positions at medical societies.

(With Inputs from Reuters)

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Published: 02 Dec 2023, 07:04 AM IST
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