TIME100 Health: Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen

Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen Credit - Carsten Snejbjerg—Bloomberg/Getty Images

It wasn’t always clear that semaglutide, a diabetes medication, would be equally powerful as a treatment for obesity. “Most medicines in obesity had failed, and some of them were even turning out to be dangerous and leading to undesirable side effects so were withdrawn from the market,” says Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, CEO of Novo Nordisk, of the weight-loss landscape in 2017. That’s when he made the risky decision to invest in studies of semaglutide for weight loss, since there were some hints that diabetic patients on the drug were getting slimmer. The decision proved both prescient and profitable for Novo Nordisk—which makes Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus—and this year the list of benefits for semaglutide expanded even further, to include a reduction in heart disease for people who are overweight or obese and have a history of heart problems. Jorgensen sees even more potential for semaglutide; the company also released results showing that the drug can lower kidney disease in people with diabetes. Since it also has some anti-inflammatory effects, Novo Nordisk is even testing it for conditions like Alzheimer’s. And its researchers are looking for more convenient ways, via patch, for example, to take the drug, which patients currently inject once a week.

Jorgensen sees semaglutide as the tip of the iceberg for a compound that could alleviate the huge costs on the health care system posed by a host of chronic diseases. “By helping patients with obesity we now have a dialogue about not just weight but about health and taking the burden off of the health system by preventing a number of co-morbidities related to obesity,” he says. “To embark on the study of semaglutide for obesity and heart disease in 2017 wasn’t a straightforward decision. But I’m glad we did it.”

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