Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Joergensen
Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Joergensen AFP

Danish pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk reported more soaring profits on Thursday thanks to the popularity of anti-diabetes and weight-loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, which have made it Europe's most valuable company.

Its net profit reached 25.4 billion kroner ($3.6 billion) in the first quarter, a 28 percent jump from the same period last year, the company said in a statement.

Sales rose by 24 percent at current exchange rates to 65.3 billion kroner -- almost two billion kroner higher than forecast by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg and financial data firm FactSet.

Novo Nordisk raised its outlook for 2024, saying it now expects sales to rise by between 19 to 27 percent -- up from 18-26 percent previously.

"More patients benefit from our innovative treatments," Novo Nordisk chief executive Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen said in a statement.

The drugmaker increased its market share of the diabetic treatment market by 1.8 percentage points and now has a 34-percent share of the market.

Novo Nordisk saw its biggest growth in North America, with the United States accounting for 76 percent of the increase in sales.

Novo Nordisk produces Ozempic, an injectable anti-diabetic treatment which has become popular on social networks for its reported slimming properties.

It also makes Wegovy, which has the same active ingredient as Ozempic in a different dose and was approved by US regulators to treat obesity.

The treatments use analogues of the hormone GLP-1, which regulates blood glucose levels and appetite.

Sales of Wegovy soared by 106 percent in the first quarter compared to a year earlier and those of Ozempic by 42 percent.

The rise in demand has led to supply constraints, and to step up production for its blockbuster drugs, Novo Nordisk is acquiring US drug manufacturing firm Catalent.

"The agreement to acquire the three Catalent manufacturing sites will enable us to serve significantly more people living with diabetes and obesity in the future," Fruergaard Jorgensen added.

A global health scourge, obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers and complications from diseases such as Covid-19.

Difficult to treat, it is costly for healthcare systems and while its causes can be lifestyle-related, it can also be influenced by genetics.

The World Obesity Federation predicts that by 2035, over half of the world's population will be overweight or obese and the global economic impact could then exceed $4 trillion a year.

Novo Nordisk also develops treatments for rare diseases such as haemophilia and makes growth hormones but sales of these fell by three percent in the first quarter due to supply constraints.

The Danish giant employs more than 64,000 people in 80 countries.