Will obesity drugs do more for productivity than AI?
It is estimated that obesity costs the US health care system $226bn annually in direct and indirect costs according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It is estimated that obesity costs 2% of global GDP annually. The costs come through more illness, sick days, and disabilities. If Wegovy and other weight loss drugs can reduce the negative effects of our obesity epidemic, then Wegovy could potentially a bigger productivity booster for our economy than AI, especially in the short run. With the demographic drag kicking in over the coming decades in the developed world reducing illness from obesity will free up more productive resources in the labour market.
Eli Lilly, valuations, first-mover advantage, and side effects
Eli Lilly, the US-based pharmaceutical company and Novo Nordisk’s biggest competitor, also saw its shares rose yesterday as the company lifted fiscal year revenue guidance on higher than expected demand for its weight-loss drug Mounjaro. Eli Lilly shares also got a boost from the Novo Nordisk announcement as the market expects similar strong results on cardiovascular risks from Mounjaro.
The high demand expected from these new types of weight-loss drug have naturally boosted the valuation of both Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk which both will likely dominate this market in the future. Novo Nordisk is valued at 2-year forward EV/EBITDA of 21.1 compared to 29.2 for Eli Lilly. This valuation difference is at odds with some or less similar expected revenue growth rates over the next five years and similar EBITDA margin. For some reason investors just want to pay a premium for US equities over European equities as also described in our equity note this Monday.
Eil Lilly’s Mounjaro seems to be causing higher weight loss in patients, which may explain the valuation premium, but the jury is still out and more trial data will come out over time. One thing is to have a slightly better product, but being a first mover is also an advantage. In the case of Novo Nordisk, the first mover advantage means that Wegocy will likely do around $3bn in revenue in 2023 compared to around $1bn for Mounjaro. Being a first mover also means that you get more data on drug safety and you expand your distribution faster which easily outweigh a less inferior drug. In any case, the market for weight loss drugs is big enough for both companies.
What about side effects? Recently several side effects have been reported related to Wegovy. Two things can be said about side effects. The benefits for obese patient exceed the short term side effects that have been reported, but it is the longer term side effects that people are worried about. It is important to note that side effects whether it is from radiation or a drug have a distribution over time. This means that if there are critical long-term side effects some people will get these effects much earlier than most people affected by the drug. As Wegovy is rolled out to many patients it will become clear very fast if longer term effects are really there, so confidence in longer term side effects quickly go up as the drug is rolled out to more and more people.