Ozempic and Wegovy, two weight-loss drugs developed by Danish firm Novo Nordisk, have seemingly been everywhere in recent months, and the craze over the relatively new medications is driving earnings. As of yesterday (September 5), Novo Nordisk overtook French luxury conglomerate LVMH as Europe’s most valuable company with a market valuation of £340 billion ($425 billion)—a figure that also surpasses the value of Denmark’s entire £323 billion ($403 billion) economy.
“We thought, OK, in the beginning, maybe it’s pent-up demand,” Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, Novo Nordisk’s CEO, told Bloomberg of the response to the medications. “But that was not really the case.”
Ozempic, which is used to treat Type 2 diabetes, was approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2017, while Wegovy, used to treat obesity, entered the market four years later. Both drugs, which contain the same active ingredient—semaglutide—and function as appetite suppressants, have gone viral for their weight loss effects and their use by celebrities like Elon Musk and Amy Schumer.
Jorgenson, 56, took up Novo Nordisk’s reins five years ago, just as Ozempic was authorized for use. But his history with the insulin manufacturer goes back much further. The Danish businessman, who grew up in a rural town near Viborg, Denmark,and studied finance and business administration at Aarhus University, has worked with the company for his entire career, initially joining in 1991 as an economist in Health Care, Economy & Planning as part of a graduate program. Climbing the ranks in IT and corporate leadership positions, he held positions in the Netherlands, the U.S. and Japan before becoming CEO.
His leadership of Novo Nordisk has been marked by an emphasis on the health of employees, and he banned smoking on company campuses since 2020. “I like to have a healthy workforce,” he told the U.K. Times, which reported that his salary in 2022 totaled about 6.5 million euros ($6.9 million). Jorgenson practices what he preaches, following a health regime complete with overnight oats, rye bread, kayaking and spin classes.
“The growth of obesity is really linked to how we live today,” he said during an August Reuters Newsmakers event. “I feel guilty have having taken my kids in the car,” added Jorgenson, reflecting on how he used to bike to school every morning.
According to the Novo Nordisk leader, drugs like Wegovy don’t just help with weight loss—the health benefits associated with obseity reduction reduce burdens on the healthcare system, he claimed. Individuals living with obesity are also sometimes “less active in society, perhaps less active in the workforce,” said Jorgenson, who added that “it’s actually very meaningful to reverse those trends.” However, the Danish businessman also noted that genetic and socio-economic components also play a part in obesity, which should therefore be analyzed “in a more comprehensive way.”
How is Novo Nordisk responding to the demand for Ozempic and Wegovy?
The success of Novo Nordisk’s introduction of both Ozempic and Wegovy created public demand for the medications that has led to shortages. In May, the company began limiting its available doses of Wegovy to aid current patients using the treatment. Earlier this month, Jorgenson revealed that it could take “quite some years” before Novo Nordisk is able to fulfill the current demand for its products, noting that the company is investing $4 billion annually to expand its manufacturing sector.
And although the firm is doing better than ever financially, its new weight-loss treatments have led to concerns about possible adverse health risks like suicidal thoughts or severe stomach issues. Citing the results of a recent study analyzing the effects of semaglutide, Jorgensen at the Reuters Newsmakers event stated that Novo Nordisk hasn’t found any correlation between its medications and the aforementioned safety concerns.
Jorgensen has himself faced criticism over the growing use of Ozempic and Wegovy among people who aren’t treating diabetes or clinical obesity but merely aiming to lose weight quickly. “We try to get involved when possible to clarify misunderstandings, but obviously we are faced with the reality that there are limitations for what we can do and what happens on social media,” Jorgenson told Time. The company doesn’t support the misuse of its treatments, he added, and is focusing on educating physicians on how to properly prescribe the medications.