China Ozempic Generics

SHANGHAI, CHINA — Novo Nordisk is facing heightened competition in the lucrative Chinese market as local drugmakers develop at least 15 generic versions of its diabetes drug Ozempic and weight loss treatment Wegovy, according to clinical trial records.

The Danish pharmaceutical company is optimistic about the increasing demand for its blockbuster drugs in China, home to the world’s largest population of overweight and obese individuals.

Ozempic, approved in China in 2021, saw its sales in the greater China region double to $698 million last year. Novo Nordisk anticipates Wegovy will receive approval this year.

However, the patent for semaglutide, the active ingredient in both Wegovy and Ozempic, expires in China in 2026. Novo Nordisk is currently embroiled in a legal battle over the patent in the country.

A court ruling against Novo Nordisk could accelerate the loss of its semaglutide exclusivity, making China the first major market where the company loses patent protection for these drugs.

This scenario has attracted several Chinese drugmakers. At least 11 semaglutide drug candidates from Chinese firms are in the final stages of clinical trials, based on a clinical trial database reviewed by Reuters.

“Ozempic has achieved unprecedented success in mainland China. With the patent expiry approaching, Chinese drugmakers are eager to capitalize on this segment as quickly as possible,” said Karan Verma, a healthcare research and data analyst at information services provider Clarivate.

Leading the charge is Hangzhou Jiuyuan Gene Engineering, which has developed a treatment it claims has “similar clinical efficacy and safety” to Ozempic. The company applied for approval to sell the drug in April but has not published efficacy data and did not respond to requests for information.

In January, Hangzhou Jiuyuan predicted approval in the second half of 2025 but cautioned that commercialization would not be possible until Novo’s patent expires in 2026 unless a Chinese court invalidates the patent.

Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide patent is expiring in China significantly earlier than in other key markets like Japan, Europe, and the U.S. Analysts attribute these differences to term extensions Novo has secured in certain regions.

Adding to Novo’s challenges is the 2022 decision by China’s patent office, ruling the patent invalid due to issues with experimental data availability. Novo has appealed this decision.

China’s top court has not indicated when a verdict will be ready.

A Novo spokesperson stated that the company “welcomes healthy competition” and is awaiting the court’s decision on its patent case but did not provide further comments.

Other Chinese drugmakers nearing the final stages of clinical trials for Ozempic generics include United Laboratories, CSPC Pharmaceutical Group, Huadong Medicine, and a subsidiary of Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group.

CSPC announced in May that it expects approval for its semaglutide diabetes drug in 2026.

In an October report, Jefferies brokerage predicted that United Laboratories would launch semaglutide drugs for diabetes in 2025 and for obesity in 2027. United Laboratories did not respond to requests for comment.

Impact on Prices

A 2020 study by Chinese public health researchers projects that by 2030, the number of overweight or obese adults in China will reach 540 million and 150 million, respectively—an increase of 2.8 and 7.5 times from 2000 levels.

If proven as safe and effective as Novo’s drugs, Chinese generics will likely increase competition and reduce prices, analysts say.

Goldman Sachs analysts estimated in an August report that generics could reduce semaglutide prices by around 25% in China. Currently, the weekly Ozempic injection costs about $100 per 3mL dose through China’s public hospital network, according to Clarivate’s Verma.

Novo Nordisk acknowledges the growing competition.

“In 2026 and 2027, we may see more players entering the market due to ongoing clinical trials,” Maziar Mike Doustdar, a Novo executive vice president, told investors in March. However, he expressed doubts about some competitors’ ability to deliver significant volumes, adding, “We will monitor the situation as it develops.”

Novo Nordisk also faces competition from well-known international firms like Eli Lilly, whose diabetes drug Mounjaro received Chinese approval in May. HSBC analysts expect China’s approval of Lilly’s weight loss drug, which shares the same active ingredient, this year or in early 2025.

Eli Lilly did not respond to requests for comments on the approval of the drug, known in the U.S. as Zepbound.

Supplies of both Wegovy and Zepbound are currently limited, but production is increasing.

Zuo Ya-Jun, general manager of weight loss drugmaker Shanghai Benemae Pharmaceutical, stated that a product’s competitiveness will depend on factors like efficacy, treatment durability, and sales capabilities.

“It will be a market with fierce competition, but predicting the leader is challenging,” she said.