Novo Nordisk to promote drug to treat obesity in United States

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danish pharmaceutical group Novo Nordisk plans to use 500 of its 3,000-strong sales force in the United States to promote its new obesity drug, executive vice president Jakob Riis told Reuters on Monday.

The U.S. health regulator has approved a formulation of Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug, liraglutide, for treating obesity, which affects one in three Americans.

“We are talking about around 500 people (who) will be focused on launching Saxenda. It is as many as the market can absorb,” Riis said. He declined to specify a launch date.

The injectable drug, to be marketed as Saxenda, is the second obesity treatment to be approved this year after Orexigen Therapeutics Inc’s oral medication Contrave in September.

Novo Nordisk, the world’s top insulin maker, focuses mainly on diabetes treatment. Riis said it had been working on the new obesity drug for around 10 years and has spent an estimated $1 billion to take it from research to marketing.

The company sees the drug as having “blockbuster” potential, which means sales of $1 billion a year within 8-10 years of launch around the world, an estimate that analysts share.

The new drug is approved for use in chronically obese patients with at least one weight-related health issue. Novo Nordisk said they expects to launch Saxenda in the United States in the first half of 2015.

Novo Nordisk activated the site over the holiday break, and pharma analysts from brokerage firm Nordea expect the drug on the market soon.

“Novo’s guidance is now for a H1 2015 launch of Saxenda in the U.S. We believe it should be more or less ready; we expect launch as soon as possible,” Nordea wrote in a note to clients.

Nordea have a buy recommendation on the shares and estimate sales of Saxenda in 2015 to be around 344 million Danish crowns.

Analysts from Citi Research forecast a peak sale of $1.5 billion, based on the drug reaching less than 0.5 percent of the 107 million people in the United States classified as obese, a daily price of $30 and 6 to 12 months’ use of the drug.

Reporting by Ole Mikkelsen; Editing by Ruth Pitchford