Lilly has a new blockbuster

If You’re Short On Time:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Eli Lilly’s novel treatment for diabetes.
  • The drug led to impressive blood sugar and body weight drops in clinical trials.
  • The approval for tirzepatide—which Lilly will market under the brand name Mounjaro—isn’t for weight loss but Type 2 diabetes.
  • Will patients, who are obese and don’t have Type 2 diabetes, ask for the drug for weight loss, and will patients understand the risks?

When it comes to losing weight, Americans want shortcuts, and if it’s a prescription drug, it doesn’t matter. Mounjaro, Lilly’s new diabetes drug, is sure to be in high demand initially after launch, but patients should be aware of its side effects.

According to Lilly side, the effects include “Mounjaro may cause tumors in the thyroid, including thyroid cancer and Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).” It may also cause kidney and gallbladder problems. Will patients look past those side effects to lose weight?

Some of the epidemiologists I spoke to are concerned about the drug’s side effects. “It’s important for obese type 2 diabetes patients to lose weight, but they need to balance the risks with this drug,” one told me. Another said, as the news about weight loss circulates, he expects a lot of patients to ask for the product.

Lilly will undoubtedly heavily promote the weight loss aspect of the product. Still, they need to ensure they also communicate that people can’t use this drug without watching what they eat and getting some exercise. That should be the main message to potential patients, but too many will only see the promise of weight loss.

“We think that when we look back at the 2020s and 2030s, we’ll see this as a time where we started to understand that obesity can be reversed, that this can be treated like a disease,” Eli Lilly Chief Scientific Officer Daniel Skovronsky said at the company’s investor meeting in New York last December. “And when we eliminate obesity, we can prevent a huge burden of morbidity and mortality from type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and other ailments. This is going to be a major change in public health.” That is a clear indication that Lilly sees huge dollar signs with this drug, and damn the side effects. Sales of Mounjaro could approach $14 billion annually by 2030.

A matter of trust?

Just 13% of people trust the pharma companies they interact with, 68% say the interactions feel transactional, and only a third agree that organizations know their communication preferences. Communication and transparency are vital to building trust, and this necessitates a shift away from established methods of interaction where pharma wants to “sell” patients with a promise.

If Lilly can build a relationship with patients based on their need to help them lose weight and keep it off, it can make a bold step into a new era in healthcare where pharma becomes a trusted partner. If, however, Lilly is using the messaging of weight loss without balancing the risks and change in behaviors needed to sustain weight loss, there could be problems, and that’s what HCPs are afraid of.