Healthy Returns: Weight loss, diabetes drug ad spending tops $1 billion


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Good afternoon! Drugmakers spent big on advertisements for weight loss and diabetes treatments last year as they wrestled for dominance in the booming market for those drugs. 

Companies spent more than $1 billion on ads for weight loss and diabetes medicines in 2023, up 51% from the prior year, according to new data from advertising analytics firm MediaRadar. That’s nearly 15% of drugmakers’ $7.6 billion in ad spending for prescription drugs last year.

Diabetes treatments accounted for nearly $790 million in ad spending in 2023, while weight loss drugs made up almost $264 million. 

So, why is this data important? Such a surge in spending demonstrates the rush by companies to capture new customers after months of hype around Novo Nordisk‘s diabetes drug Ozempic and weight loss counterpart Wegovy. Those drugs have soared in demand despite their roughly $1,000 price tags and limited insurance coverage. 

Wegovy and Ozempic “have been at the forefront of advertising, endorsements from public figures and consistent media exposure, which contributes to the overall expenditure and has necessitated increased advertising investments to capture and expand market share,” MediaRadar CEO Todd Krizelman told CNBC.

And initial data for this year suggests that ad spending for weight loss and diabetes drugs isn’t slowing. 

Drugmakers spent nearly $120 million on ads for those treatments through the first two months of 2024, according to MediaRadar. That is a slight decrease from the same period a year ago due to factors such as “prescription changes,” but it still accounts for 10% of overall prescription ad spending in January and February. 

“We expect ad spending in the diabetes and weight loss category to remain strong or even increase as brands strive to capitalize on the growing market and demand,” Krizelman said. 

Now, let’s dig a little bit more into the data. 

MediaRadar compiled ad spending from national TV broadcasts, print publications, newspapers and websites, podcasts and social media platforms from Jan. 1, 2022 to Feb. 29, 2024. 

The firm identified six weight loss and diabetes drugs that drove ad spending last year: 

  • Ozempic from Novo Nordisk — an injection for Type 2 diabetes
  • Wegovy from Novo Nordisk — an injection for obesity 
  • Rybelsus from Novo Nordisk — a pill for Type 2 diabetes 
  • Mounjaro from Eli Lilly — an injection for Type 2 diabetes
  • Jardiance from Boehringer Ingelheim — a pill for Type 2 diabetes
  • Farxiga from AstraZeneca — a pill for Type 2 diabetes

Wegovy accounted for $263 million in ad spending in 2023, which can’t be compared year over year since the drug was approved in 2022, according to MediaRadar. Novo Nordisk in May also paused some key promotion for Wegovy, specifically local and national TV advertising. 

Ozempic made up $208 million in ad spending last year, up just 4% from the previous year. 

Mounjaro accounted for $139 million in ad spending, a whopping 16 times more than in 2022. 

Here’s the ad-spend ranking for those six drugs:

  • Wegovy: $263 million 
  • Ozempic: $208 million 
  • Rybelsus: $199 million 
  • Jardiance: $148 million 
  • Mounjaro: $139 million 
  • Farxiga: $68 million 

National TV is overwhelmingly the top format for weight loss and diabetes drug advertising so far in 2024, MediaRadar said. The firm did not provide detailed data on ad formats for last year. 

Drugmakers invested 88% or more of their ad spending for Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, Jardiance and Farxiga in television in the first two months of this year. 

Rybelsus was the exception. Novo Nordisk spent 63% of its ad spending for Rybelsus on online video despite scaling back investment in the format compared to 2023, MediaRadar said. 

Krizelman said the shift toward spending on TV ads is due to its “broader reach and ability to target” patients more likely to be affected by diabetes and obesity. TV commercials also have a “higher impact in terms of trust and credibility compared to online channels,” he added. 

This year, I plan to monitor what spending on Eli Lilly’s new obesity treatment Zepbound will look like. That drug won approval in the U.S. in November, and some analysts say it could eventually become the top-selling drug of all time. 

Stay tuned for more of our coverage on the drug and similar treatments later this year. 

Feel free to send any tips, suggestions, story ideas and data to Annika at annikakim.constantino@nbcuni.com.

Latest in health-care technology

FDA approves first AI diagnostic tool for sepsis

It’s a big day for the health tech startup Prenosis.

The 10-year-old Chicago-based company announced Wednesday that its artificial intelligence-powered diagnostic tool for sepsis has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s the first time the agency has ever authorized this type of solution.

Sepsis occurs when the body has an extreme response to an infection. It is notoriously challenging to diagnose, and often deadly. Around 1.7 million adults in the U.S. develop sepsis each year, and 1 in 3 patients who die in a hospital developed sepsis during that hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Prenosis’ tool, called Sepsis ImmunoScore, uses 22 different parameters to help clinicians assess a patient’s risk of sepsis, according to a release. While doctors and nurses are often responsible for monitoring these factors individually, Sepsis ImmunoScore uses AI to evaluate all of them at once. 

The tool spits out an overall risk score, as well as four categories that reflect a patient’s risk of deterioration, the release said. Sepsis ImmunoScore is integrated within the electronic health record, and clinicians can see exactly which parameters were used to calculate the risk score.

In 2022, the FDA updated its guidance for companies and gave a number of examples of device software functions that it intends to oversee. The agency said software that “analyzes patient-specific medical information to detect a life-threatening condition, such as stroke or sepsis” falls under this category. 

Prenosis told CNBC that while it could have gone directly to market with its solution, as other companies like the health-care software vendor Epic Systems have done, it did not want to try and sell Sepsis ImmunoScore without FDA authorization. The company said the approval process took around 18 months. 

Prenosis will now conduct additional studies and begin to sell the product to hospitals across the U.S. Eventually, the company hopes its technology will appear in hospitals across the globe. 

Feel free to send any tips, suggestions, story ideas and data to Ashley at ashley.capoot@nbcuni.com.

— CNBC’s Gabriel Cortes contributed to this report.



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