Maker of Wegovy, Ozempic showers money on U.S. obesity doctors

Wegovy, Novo Nordisk

Maker of Wegovy, Ozempic showers money on U.S. obesity doctors

Dr. Lee Kaplan took the stage with an urgent message, telling fellow physicians they have a powerful weapon to fight the American obesity crisis: their prescription pads.

Counseling on diet and exercise alone has failed for decades, he told about 400 doctors taking his annual obesity course at a Boston-area hotel. Kaplan, a leading U.S. obesity specialist, urged them to turn to a new generation of weight-loss medicines, including Wegovy from Novo Nordisk, that could help tens of millions of overweight Americans.

Obesity, he said, should be treated as aggressively as other chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes – 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.”

Kaplan’s solution for America’s weight problem closely tracks Novo Nordisk’s financial ambitions for Wegovy. The Danish drugmaker, long known for diabetes medicines, is transforming itself into the world’s biggest weight-loss company. Novo tells investors its target market is the 764 million people with obesity across the globe. Its most lucrative region is the United States, where more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or have obesity and drugs frequently command the highest prices worldwide. Novo charges U.S. customers $1,300 a month for the weekly injection.

Kaplan, the chief of obesity medicine at Dartmouth College’s medical school, is a powerful standard bearer for Novo’s case. Until last year, the 69-year-old gastroenterologist led the Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital and taught at Harvard Medical School. He’s also a highly paid messenger: Novo has spent $1.4 million on Kaplan for consulting work and travel between 2013 and 2022, according to a Reuters analysis of federal data.

Those payments are part of a campaign to convince U.S. doctors to make Wegovy one of the most widely prescribed drugs in history – and to persuade skeptical insurers to pay for it. Novo spent at least $25.8 million over the past decade on U.S. medical professionals to promote its two obesity drugs, Wegovy and Saxenda, the analysis found.

That total includes only payments that Novo reported it made specifically related to those two drugs; it sometimes paid far more to obesity specialists without naming any drug in the federal data. The money Novo reported paying Kaplan, for instance, included just $262,038 that the company classified as directly related to the two drugs, and $131,624 for an older diabetes medicine with the same active ingredient as Saxenda. Novo paid Kaplan $976,019 more without specifying any drug. Experts who study these industry payments say drugmakers have latitude on how to classify their spending on doctors.

Reuters examined Novo’s payments for speaking, consulting, food and travel, while excluding those for research. The analysis also excluded payments related to Ozempic, a Novo diabetes drug that is also wildly popular for weight loss because it has the same active ingredient as Wegovy.

Source: Reuters. Read the rest of the Reuters analysis.