Spending on promoting for weight reduction and diabetes drugs totals over $1 billion

Boxes of Novo Nordisk's Wegovy are seen at a pharmacy in London, Britain, March 8, 2024.

Hollie Adams | Reuters

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Good day! Drugmakers spent heavily last year promoting weight loss and diabetes treatments as they fought for dominance in the booming market for the drugs.

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

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

Why is this data important? Such a surge in spending highlights companies' rush to attract new customers after months of hype Novo Nordiskis the diabetes drug Ozempic and its weight loss counterpart Wegovy. Demand for these drugs has surged despite their price tag of around $1,000 and limited insurance coverage.

Wegovy and Ozempic “have been at the forefront of advertising, public figure endorsements and consistent media exposure, which contributes to overall spending and has required increased advertising investments to capture and grow market share,” said Todd Krizelman, CEO of MediaRadar , told CNBC.

And early data for this year suggests that advertising spending on weight loss and diabetes medications shows no signs of slowing down.

Drugmakers spent nearly $120 million on advertising for these treatments in the first two months of 2024, according to MediaRadar. That's a slight decline from the same period last year due to factors such as “prescription changes,” but still represents 10% of total prescription drug advertising spending in January and February.

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

Now let’s delve a little deeper into the data.

MediaRadar compiled advertising spending from national television shows, print publications, newspapers and websites, podcasts and social media platforms from January 1, 2022 to February 29, 2024.

The company identified six weight loss and diabetes medications that drove advertising spending last year:

  • Ozempic from Novo Nordisk – an injection against type 2 diabetes
  • Wegovy from Novo Nordisk – an anti-obesity injection
  • Rybelsus from Novo Nordisk – a pill against type 2 diabetes
  • Mounjaro out Eli Lilly – an injection against type 2 diabetes
  • Jardiance from Boehringer Ingelheim – a pill against type 2 diabetes
  • Farxiga by AstraZeneca – a pill for type 2 diabetes

According to MediaRadar, Wegovy accounted for $263 million in advertising spending in 2023, which has not been comparable to the previous year since the drug was approved in 2022. Novo Nordisk also paused some key promotional efforts for Wegovy in May, particularly local and national television advertising.

Ozempic generated $208 million in ad spending last year, just 4% more than the previous year.

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

Here is the ranking of advertising spending for these six drugs:

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

National television is overwhelmingly the top format for advertising weight loss and diabetes medications so far in 2024, according to MediaRadar. The company did not provide detailed data on ad formats for the past year.

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

Rybelsus was the exception. According to MediaRadar, Novo Nordisk spent 63% of its Rybelsus ad spend on online video, although investment in the format was scaled back compared to 2023.

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

This year I want to monitor what spending will look like for Eli Lilly's new obesity drug Zepbound. This drug was approved in the US in November and some analysts say it could eventually become the best-selling drug of all time.

Stay tuned for more information about the drug and similar treatments later this year.

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

Latest technology in healthcare

FDA approves first AI diagnostic tool for sepsis

Signs are seen outside the U.S. Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Maryland, on August 29, 2020.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

It's a big day for health technology startup Prenosis.

The 10-year-old Chicago-based company announced Wednesday that its artificial intelligence-based sepsis diagnostic tool has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is the first time the agency has approved such a solution.

Sepsis occurs when the body reacts extremely to an infection. Diagnosis is notoriously difficult and often fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1.7 million adults in the United States develop sepsis each year, and one in three patients who die in a hospital developed sepsis during that hospital stay.

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

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

In 2022, the FDA updated its guidance for companies, providing a number of examples of device software features it plans to monitor. The agency said software that “analyzes patient-specific medical information to detect a life-threatening condition such as stroke or sepsis” falls into this category.

Prenosis told CNBC that while the company could have gone directly to market with its solution, as other companies like healthcare software provider Epic Systems have done, it did not want to try to sell Sepsis ImmunoScore without FDA approval. According to the company, the approval process took around 18 months.

Prenosis will now conduct further studies and begin selling the product to hospitals throughout the United States. The company hopes its technology will eventually be used in hospitals around the world.

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

—CNBC's Gabriel Cortes contributed to this report.

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