Sanders drops subpoena effort after Novo Nordisk CEO agrees to testify

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Friday dropped his pursuit of a subpoena for a top pharmaceutical executive after the company’s CEO agreed to testify before the Senate later this year.

Sanders announced earlier this week that he would hold a vote to subpoena Doug Langa, the executive vice president of North America operations for Novo Nordisk, because the company has “repeatedly denied” requests to appear.

The vote that was scheduled for next week was preempted with the announcement that Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen had agreed to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which Sanders chairs.

The hearing will be held in early September.

“I enjoyed the opportunity of chatting with Mr. Jørgensen this afternoon and thank him for agreeing to voluntarily testify on a solo panel before the HELP Committee on the high cost of Ozempic and Wegovy in the United States,” Sanders said in a statement. “The scheduled subpoena vote is no longer necessary and will be cancelled.”

The hearing is part of Sanders’s investigation into why Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide products — Ozempic and Wegovy — are significantly more expensive in the U.S. than abroad.

Documents obtained by The Hill indicate that Jørgensen had expressed his willingness to voluntarily testify prior to the planned subpoena vote. Letters dated June 5 and June 7 both affirm Jørgensen’s willingness to appear.

The key disagreement appeared to be that Jørgensen did not wish to be a solo witness.

“We asked that, in accord with your public statements to the New York Times and your statement to Mr. Jørgensen directly, the Committee hold a fair hearing which includes a range of stakeholders that impact what patients pay for GLP-1 medicines in the complex U.S. healthcare ecosystem—rather than focus on just one participant,” the June 7 letter stated.

“Unfortunately, your staff has thus far declined to reach an accommodation on this issue, and instead communicated that, despite our repeated offers to appear voluntarily, you intend to compel Mr. Jørgensen to appear alone to answer for the pricing discrepancies that result from the U.S. healthcare system.”

The threat of a subpoena against Langa appeared to be enough to persuade Jørgensen to appear by himself before the Senate committee.

“As part of Novo Nordisk’s continued efforts to cooperate with the Chairman, our CEO reaffirmed our position. He and Chairman Sanders had a productive call and agreed to find a mutually acceptable date for a hearing. We look forward to discussing solutions that ensure access and affordability for all patients within the complex U.S. healthcare system,” Novo Nordisk said in a statement.

According to health care policy experts, the recent political pressure on Novo Nordisk regarding its pricing could well be a tactic to keep high drug costs at top of mind this year.

“Novo Nordisk’s GLP-1 drugs are getting an enormous amount of public attention, both for their potential weight loss benefits and their sky high list prices in the U.S. Novo Nordisk has become a very attractive political target for politicians looking to keep the spotlight on high drug costs in this country, particularly in an election year,” Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the research group KFF, said in a statement to The Hill.

“There is going to be growing public pressure on employers, insurers, and Medicare and Medicaid to cover drugs that are effective in treating obesity, but the high prices are a big barrier,” Levitt added.

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