LONDON - Novo Nordisk launched its weight-loss injection Wegovy in Britain on Monday, its second debut in Europe in just over a month as the drugmaker seeks to expand in the region even as it struggles to keep up with soaring demand.
The Danish drugmaker said in a statement that the weekly injection would be available in the United Kingdom "through a controlled and limited launch".
Surging demand for the drug, and Novo's highly effective diabetes drug Ozempic, have sent the company's shares and earnings to record highs. On Friday it unseated LVMH as Europe's most valuable listed company, ending the French luxury group's 2-1/2 year-long reign at the top.
The company's shares rose as much as 1.9% in early trading on Monday to a record high of 1,326 Danish crowns ($192). They were last up 1.6% on the day at 1,321.20.
Wegovy, shown to help patients reduce body weight by around 15% when used along with exercise and lifestyle changes, is so far available in the United States, Norway, Denmark, and as of late July, Germany.
Novo's inability to keep up with U.S. demand for Wegovy has effectively delayed the launch in most of Europe.
The company has struggled to meet demand even as it has added production capacity, and its CEO told Reuters last month it would "take quite some years" before the company can satisfy the whole market.
"We are closely monitoring Wegovy demand and are working with regulators and providers to ensure people living with obesity can have access to and remain on treatment," the company said in its statement.
Novo and Britain's drug cost-effectiveness watchdog NICE declined to comment on how much it would cost.
In an early indication of prices, Simple Online Pharmacy, a UK-based online pharmacy chain, told Reuters it would charge patients between 149 pounds and 299 pounds ($188-$377) for a monthly supply. That includes a consultation with a general practitioner and prescription and dispensing costs.
In the United States, the drug sells for as much as $1,350 a month.
In March, NICE recommended the use of Wegovy in adults with at least one weight-related condition and a body mass index of 35, but only within the National Health Service's (NHS) specialist weight management scheme.
NICE's recommendation also calls for Wegovy to be used "for a maximum of two years".
Novo said the drug will be available both on the NHS' weight management scheme and "privately through a registered healthcare professional".
The company did not say how much supply it would make available in Britain.
It was not immediately clear what the implications would be of the drug being available through private healthcare professionals.
"As we expect supply to be constrained for the foreseeable future, a proportion of available supply will be allocated for use only within the NHS to allow healthcare professionals to implement NICE guidance," the Novo statement said.
Around 50,000 eligible patients in England could be prescribed Wegovy through NHS specialist weight management services, an NHS spokesperson said in a statement.
"Despite global supply constraints, NHS England is taking action to begin implementing NICE guidance for weight management, while at the same time working to restore supplies of this class of drug for people with type 2 diabetes," the NHS spokesperson said.
Nearly one in three adults are obese in the United Kingdom, the highest in Europe, according to a 2019 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report.
Overweight-related illnesses account for 8.4% of health expenditure and when combined with lower labour market output, it reduces UK GDP by 3.4%, it said.
Obesity is usually defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above.
In June, the British government said it planned to launch a pilot programme exploring how shots such as Wegovy can be given to obese patients by general practitioners, though at the time Wegovy's launch date was unknown.
Reuters reported last week that Wegovy supplies were limited in Germany less than a month after its launch in Europe's largest drug market, highlighting the challenge for Novo's ambitions in Europe. ($1 = 6.9009 Danish crowns)
(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Editing by Susan Fenton, Josephine Mason and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)