By Ludwig Burger and Maggie Fick
FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Novo Nordisk has launched blockbuster weight-loss drug Wegovy in Germany, its first major European market, hoping Germans will pay hundreds of euros out of pocket for a drug that public health insurance plans are so far barred from covering.
The drug, which has been shown to help patients reduce body weight by around 15% when used in conjunction with exercise and lifestyle changes, is already available in the US, but in Europe it is so far only on sale in small markets, Norway and Denmark .
“The first patients have redeemed prescriptions in Germany,” a spokesman for Novo confirmed to Reuters on Saturday, in line with previously announced plans to launch the drug there at the end of July.
The Danish drugmaker’s share price has more than doubled in the two years since the drug debuted, making Novo Europe’s second most valuable listed company after LVMH.
Doctors and patients in Germany have told Reuters they expect high demand for the weekly injections, with many patients willing to shoulder the cost, starting at 170 euros ($190) a month and rising to more than 300 euros as the treatment requires that the dose is increased.
Public health insurance schemes, which cover about 90% of Germans, will not foot the bill, under a decades-old law that prevents them from covering weight-loss drugs.
For the 10% of Germans with private health insurance, coverage will vary. Among larger providers, Allianz says it will pay if a doctor diagnoses a medical need, while Debeka said its plans exclude weight-loss treatments.
Patient advocates and doctors have welcomed Wegovy’s arrival in Germany, where 18.5% of adults are obese, above the EU average of 16%.
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s state public health agency, says diseases associated with excess body weight pose a significant burden on health and social security systems.
Novo is ramping up production to meet rising demand in the United States, where the drug sells for as much as $1,350 a month. It says it will closely monitor prescriptions in Germany to ensure access for people with obesity, but cannot rule out delivery delays.
In Germany, Wegovy will be administered with the same injection pen used in Norway and Denmark, different from the one used in the United States, to avoid hitting supplies there.
Wegovy’s introduction in Germany will spark debate in a nation where the healthcare system has often treated obesity as a lifestyle choice rather than a chronic disease.
Doctors say many Germans looking to lose weight have already used Ozempic, a diabetes drug also made by Novo, which is a lower-dose version of the same ingredient as Wegovy.
Doctors have worried that supplies would be strained by non-obese people seeking “vanity” prescriptions – a concern reflected in a Novo statement in mid-July saying doctors should “prescribe responsible”.
($1 = 0.8984 euros)
(Reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt and Maggie Fick in London)