Novo’s Rybelsus launch defies Covid-19

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Launching a diabetes drug during a global pandemic sounds like a recipe for disaster. But Novo Nordisk has beaten 2020 forecasts for its oral GLP-1 agonist, Rybelsus, despite Covid-19: full-year product sales were DKK1.87bn ($303m), versus EvaluatePharma sellside consensus of $279m. And any fears that Rybelsus could cannibalise Novo’s older injectable GLP-1 Ozempic have also been allayed, as over 80% of Rybelsus prescriptions were for patients new to the GLP-1 class. However, things look set to remain tough: face-to-face promotion has been on hold since November, a situation that could continue for some time with ongoing lockdowns. The sellside sees Rybelsus as Novo’s second-biggest product in 2026, with sales of over $5bn; however, this figure will rocket if a long shot in Alzheimer’s pays off. One thing not likely to change is Novo’s focus on internally developed assets and early-stage deals, despite the imminent retirement of its chief scientific officer, Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, announced today. The Danish group’s research and M&A strategy will remain the same, its chief executive, Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, told a media call this morning, particularly as Mr Thomsen is being replaced by his “lieutenants”, Marcus Schindler and Martin Holst Lange.

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