INVESTORS can spend years looking for a market-leading company in a fast-growing sector that’s innovative enough to withstand challenges and stable enough to grow with demand.
There are not many such companies — though Danish pharmaceutical group Novo Nordisk might be one of them says Maxime Le Floch, an investment analyst with Regnan’s Global Equity Impact team.
“This is the poster child for finding a really strong solution that’s miles ahead of competitors in a fast-growing market,” he argues.
The market? Anti-obesity treatment.
Novo is best known as a pioneer in diabetes treatment, where it holds about 30 per cent of the global market. Its diabetes drugs reached 34.6 million people around the world in 2021.
About 422 million people worldwide have diabetes and 1.5 million deaths are directly attributed to the disease each year, says the World Health Organisation.
Novo is now developing medical treatments for obesity, which is closely linked with diabetes.
The WHO reports 650 million adults are obese (1.9 billion are classed as overweight) and some 4 million die each year from obesity.
However anti-obesity medication is almost non-existent. “It’s a new category,” Le Floch says.
Novo Nordisk launched its new “Wegovy” injectable anti-obesity drug in the US last June and expects to launch in Europe later this year.
Novo Nordisk’s heritage dates back to 1921.
After hearing of the discovery of insulin in Canada, Danish Nobel laureate August Krogh and his wife Marie — a doctor living with diabetes — convinced the researchers to allow production in Denmark.
The first patients were treated in March 1923.
Suddenly diabetes was no longer a death sentence. The original company grew quickly and merged with a competitor.
By 2022 Novo Nordisk was a global leader in the treatment of diabetes.
“It’s very innovative in finding new treatments,” Le Floch says. “It is improving outcomes in terms of co-morbidities, in particular cardiovascular and hypoglycaemia.”
Treatments for diabetes, which is a condition of having too much glucose circulating in a person’s bloodstream, have evolved over time, from daily injections to weekly injections, from the use of syringes to the use of pens.
That’s Novo Nordisk’s base business.
“Over the past few years Novo Nordisk has started working on new treatment pathways using glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) and realised it had very good outcomes not just for diabetes but also for weight loss,” Le Floch says.
GLP-1 drugs treat type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease which affects 380 million people globally.
“They explored that outcome and it led them to develop anti-obesity medication that’s revolutionary. The cardiovascular profile for the treatment looks very compelling as well,” Le Floch says.
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Obesity and diabetes go hand-in-hand. People with a higher body mass index are more likely to develop diabetes.
Humans are getting heavier, according to a range for government funded and private studies. Greater calorie intake, confusion over what’s nutritional and general inactivity are mostly to blame.
It isn’t a challenge just for the health system but for many sectors across the economy.
For example, in June last year, the Levi Strauss boss Chip Bergh told analysts that during COVID around one-third of customers’ waist sizes had changed. In Levi’s case it was a positive because people had to buy new clothes.
But mostly it’s a negative and the health sector is at the forefront of the fight against expanding waistlines.
Novo Nordisk is moving towards treating the source as well as the symptoms, Le Floch explains.
“For some people reducing food isn’t enough to reduce their body mass index. Now there is a treatment pathway …. And the weight loss benefits are very compelling.”
People who have contracted COVID may also be more likely to suffer from diabetes, according to early studies.
“That’s not totally proven yet but certainly the potential is there. In France, medical authorities realised that many of the people who ended up in emergency care because of COVID also lived with obesity,” Le Floch says.
Medication for obesity is under-served.
“Anti-obesity medication is almost non-existent, or at least very, very small. It’s a new category,” Le Floch says.
“Novo Nordisk is investing in clinical trials to prove further the benefits of its treatment. It could end up in a new market where there aren’t many solutions and there is a massive opportunity.
“That’s the investment case for Novo Nordisk. Not just treatment of diabetes but attacking the source of the disease, opening up a whole new market.”
Maxime is an analyst with Regnan’s impact investment team. He focuses on Regnan Global Equity Impact Solutions Fund. Maxime has more than 10 years of experience in sustainable investment. Before joining Regnan he was an investment analyst with Hermes where he helped launch and manage the Hermes Impact Opportunities Equity Fund.
Regnan is a responsible investment leader with a long and proud history of providing insight and advice to investors with an interest in long-term, broad-based or values-aligned performance.
Building on that expertise, in 2019 Regnan expanded into responsible investment funds management, backed by the considerable resources of Pendal Group.
The Regnan Global Equity Impact Solutions Fund invests in mission-driven companies we believe are well placed to solve the world’s biggest problems.
The Regnan Credit Impact Trust (available in Australia only) invests in cash, fixed and floating rate securities where the proceeds create positive environmental and social change. Both funds are distributed by Pendal in Australia.
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For more information on these and other responsible investing strategies, contact Head of Regnan and Responsible Investment Distribution Jeremy Dean at email@example.com.
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