‘Novo Nordisk is Ripping Off the American People,’ Bernie Sanders Says of Ozempic and Wegovy Costs

By: Berkeley Lovelace Jr.; NBC News

The Vermont senator wants to know why the drugmaker charges up to 15 times more for the blockbuster weight loss drugs in the U.S., compared to other countries.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., says the first question he is going to ask Novo Nordisk’s CEO at a Senate committee hearing in September is why the drugmaker charges up to 10 or 15 times more for Ozempic and Wegovy in the U.S., compared to other countries.

“This is absurd,” Sanders said in an interview late Tuesday. “It is clear that Novo Nordisk is ripping off the American people.”

Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen has agreed to testify in September over the pricing of the drugmaker’s hugely popular weight loss drugs, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions announced Friday.

It came three days after Sanders, who chairs the committee, threatened to hold a vote to subpoena Novo Nordisk President Doug Langa to provide testimony.

In a separate statement, a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk said that Jørgensen agreed after he and Sanders had “a productive call and agreed to find a mutually acceptable date for a hearing.”

Sanders said Tuesday that he is still working with Novo Nordisk to set an exact date for the hearing, but he expects it will be during the second week of September. He said his strategy for getting Novo Nordisk to reduce the cost of the drugs is simple: Put the company in the spotlight.

“I think enough public pressure may result in them lowering their prices substantially, which is obviously what my goal is,” the senator said. “This is a huge issue because it is likely that Ozempic and Wegovy may end up being the most lucrative product that the pharmaceutical industry has ever developed.” 

In April, the committee launched an investigation into Novo Nordisk’s pricing practices. It cited a report that found that Novo Nordisk charges around $1,300 a month for Wegovy in the U.S., even though the drug can be purchased for $186 a month in Denmark, $137 in Germany and $92 in the United Kingdom. Some patients in the U.S. have said that the higher prices of Ozempic and Wegovy have pushed them to unregulated, copycat drugs for weight loss.

In reality, there’s little Congress can do about the high cost of the weight loss drugs in the U.S. Novo Nordisk charging higher prices is partly a function of how the American patent system works. 

Drugmakers who develop new medications get to exclusively sell them on the U.S. market for a set period of time — typically 20 years. During this time, other companies can’t make generic versions of the drug, severely limiting competition. And unlike other countries, there is generally no direct pricing regulation on the drug by the federal government. 

The patent for semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, isn’t expected to expire until around 2031 at the earliest. 

When asked about prescription drug pricing in the U.S., Sanders responded, “This is the system, it’s a corrupt system.”

“It’s a system controlled by a large pharmaceutical industry, who makes massive amounts of campaign contributions,” he said. “And it’s a system which enables the drug companies to make huge profits, while 1 out of 4 Americans cannot afford to buy the prescription drugs that doctors prescribe.” 

Sanders said he knows Novo Nordisk likely isn’t the only one responsible for the high cost of the drugs. He said so-called pharmacy benefit managers, also known as middlemen, likely also make the cost of the drugs more expensive for people in the U.S. 

Sanders said Novo Nordisk had wanted other companies, including pharmacy benefit managers, on the panel in September, but he declined. 

“None of that negates the fact that they are charging us far, far more for the exact same product than they charge people in other countries,” he said. 

Novo Nordisk declined to provide an additional comment on Sanders’ remarks.