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Sanders speaks with Ozempic maker on price

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders. Photo:

Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke this week with the CEO of Novo Nordisk but didn't get an immediate commitment to lower the price of the company's blockbuster drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, he told Axios.

Why it matters: The conversation with CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen is part of an escalating campaign from the Senate HELP Chairman to pressure the drugmaker to lower the cost of weight-loss drugs.

  • Sanders left open the possibility of calling a hearing on the price of the GLP-1 treatments if follow-up, staff-level talks don't bear fruit.

What they're saying: "[It's] very high on my agenda," Sanders told Axios this afternoon. "We had a nice discussion with ... the CEO, our staffs are now going to be talking, I look forward to some progress but certainly if there's not, there will be a hearing and a demand for an explanation."

  • "The bottom line is we're seeing a product sold in the United States for approximately $1,000 list price, same product sold in Germany for $59, sold in Canada for $155," he added. "There's no explanation for that, even with rebates, we're paying far more than people of any other country."
  • Not only is he worried about the cost to patients, but he warned that "Medicare's going to go bankrupt," paying for the medicines.

A JAMA study of manufacturing costs last month concluded the drugs can likely be made far below current prices, which would enable wider access.

The other side: "We are proud of the work our scientists have done to advance treatment of chronic diseases to improve lives," Novo Nordisk said in a statement to Axios.

  • "We remain committed to working with policymakers to advance solutions to ensure access and affordability for all patients. We reiterated this commitment in the conversation with Chairman Sanders."
  • The company added that "the majority of U.S. patients covered by commercial health plans pay $25 or less a month for their prescriptions."

The big picture: Sanders has touted some recent wins in his broader campaign to pressure drugmakers on pricing, including some inhaler manufacturers capping patient costs at $35.

  • Lowering the price of Ozempic and Wegovy could be a bigger lift, though. CEOs of other drugmakers testified before the HELP Committee in February and did not budge on their prices.
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