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Jun 25, 2024, 10:34am EDT
East Asia
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Semafor Signals

Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy approved in China as weight-loss drug race heats up

Insights from Nature, World Health Organization, Semafor, and the Financial Times

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Hollie Adams/Reuters/File Photo
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The News

Wegovy, the weight-loss drug developed by Novo Nordisk, was approved for sale in China, opening up a new frontier for the Danish pharmaceutical company.

The firm’s stock reached a record high both in Denmark and the US in the hours after the announcement.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Obesity rates in China are growing

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Sources:  
World Health Organization, Nature

Almost 40% of the Chinese population was overweight in 2022, and more than 8% was classified as obese, according to the World Health Organization — a 433% increase from 30 years ago. The rise in obesity has partially been influenced by the country’s economic growth, Nature wrote. Disposable income has increased by more than 130 times for both rural and urban households since the 1970s, which has in turn led to a dietary shift, with people consuming significantly more meat and fewer grains, similar to Western countries such as the United States.

The market for weight-loss drugs is currently a ‘duopoly’

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Sources:  
Semafor, Nature

The weight-loss drug market is currently dominated by Novo Nordisk and American pharma company Eli Lilly, effectively making it a “duopoly,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla recently told Semafor. But there are “dozens of companies preparing competing products,” he added, including his own, which is developing three new weight-loss drugs — two that will use a GLP-1 technology akin to existing ones, and one that will use a new mechanism that is still confidential. Companies in India and China are also working to develop biosimilars, cheaper versions of expensive brand-name drugs, Nature reported.

Chinese firms are developing new weight-loss drugs

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Sources:  
Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal

The diabetes drug market in China is expected to double in the next six years to more than $23 billion, the Financial Times wrote. Novo Nordisk’s patent for Wegovy is set to expire in 2026 in the country, so the Chinese companies that are already working to develop biosimilar drugs, as well as improved weight-loss drugs, could take a fifth of the country’s growing market by 2033, financial company Nomura estimated. Biotech group Innovent already has the right to a molecule developed in partnership with Eli Lilly that has shown promising results in early clinical trials, and Chinese regulators have approved two Chinese-made drugs that work in a similar way to Wegovy, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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