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Novo Nordisk is bracing for a showdown in China, where at least 15 generic versions of its blockbuster diabetes drug Ozempic and weight loss treatment Wegovy are brewing in local labs. As clinical trial records reveal, the race is on, and Novo’s Danish hopes for market domination face a formidable challenge.
Novo’s optimism stems from China’s burgeoning population of the overweight and obese, the largest in the world. With Ozempic gaining approval in 2021, sales in the region doubled to 4.8 billion Danish Krone ($698 million) last year. Wegovy is poised for approval this year, but the clock is ticking—semaglutide, the active ingredient in both drugs, loses patent protection in China come 2026. A legal battle over the patent could expedite this timeline, potentially making China the first major market where Novo loses its exclusivity.
Chinese drugmakers are circling like sharks, with 11 semaglutide candidates in the final stages of clinical trials. Karan Verma, a healthcare analyst at Clarivate, notes, “Ozempic has been a blockbuster in mainland China. With the patent expiry looming, Chinese firms are eager to carve out their share of the market.”
Hangzhou Jiuyuan Gene Engineering is leading the charge, having developed a treatment claiming “similar clinical efficacy and safety” as Ozempic. They applied for approval in April but won’t commercialize until Novo’s patent expires, unless a court ruling accelerates the process.
Novo’s patent expiry in China precedes that in Japan, Europe, and the U.S., due to specific term extensions in those regions. The real kicker came from China’s patent office in 2022, ruling the patent invalid over experimental data issues—a decision Novo is fervently appealing.
China’s top court remains mum on when a verdict will drop. In the meantime, Novo’s spokesperson diplomatically states the company “welcomes healthy competition,” while sidestepping further questions.
Joining the generic gold rush are United Laboratories, CSPC Pharmaceutical Group, Huadong Medicine, and a subsidiary of Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group. CSPC expects to launch its semaglutide diabetes drug in 2026, setting the stage for a fierce market battle.
So, as Novo Nordisk eyes the Chinese market with anticipation and a hint of trepidation, it’s clear that the land of dragons is about to become a battleground for diabetes and weight loss treatments.