Novo Nordisk gets nod from U.S. drug purchaser for new diabetes hope

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Danish multinational pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk is pictured on the facade of a production plant in Chartres, north-central France, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Guillaume Souvant/Pool/File Photo

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Insulin maker Novo Nordisk said its Ozempic diabetes drug had been included on a list of medicines approved for patients covered by U.S. private health schemes, setting the stage for a battle with Eli Lilly’s Trulicity.

Novo Nordisk, the world’s biggest insulin maker, launched Ozempic, known generically as semaglutide, in the United States this year after it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December.

Ozempic is a once-weekly injection that Novo Nordisk hopes will take market share from Trulicity, which has been cutting into sales of Novo Nordisk’s once-daily Victoza.

The drug has now been included on a 2018 formulary list of acceptable medicines drawn up by Express Script, one of the biggest pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) in the United States, with a tier 3 status, a Novo spokeswoman told Reuters.

It is crucial for Novo Nordisk to have its drugs included on the PBM lists, as they account for around 80 percent of U.S. drug sales.

Ozempic will compete with Trulicity as well as AstraZeneca Plc’s once-weekly Bydureon in a class known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) analogs, which imitate an intestinal hormone that stimulates the production of insulin.

Being on the Express Script formulary list will give Ozempic access to a “single-digit share” of the overall GLP-1 market in the United States, the spokeswoman said.

The U.S. market accounts for around half of Novo’s total sales and pricing pressures in the U.S. drugs market hurt Novo Nordisk’s profits in the fourth quarter.

Novo shares were up 1.6 percent at 314 Danish crowns at 1519 GMT.

Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Susan Fenton