JPM 2022: CEO Eli Lilly reflects on Novo’s tip on tirzepatide: obesity, diabetes
Is there a good reason to divide a drug into several brands?
Many drug manufacturers have already made this decision, including Novo Nordisk with its drugs Wegovy and Ozempic GLP-1. Now Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks is testing the idea with his pending blockbuster tirzepatide.
Its fierce Danish rival is already splitting its injectable GLP-1 drug, semaglutide, into two separate brands: Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for obesity. The doses are different for everyone, so they carry different drug approvals. But it also allows Novo to market each brand for its own disease.
Lilly’s GIP / GLP-1 double agonist tirzepatide, one of the most anticipated drug launches of the year, is already at the FDA and may get approval this year. Maximum sales are set at $ 5 billion by 2026, according to Evaluate estimates.
Ozempic already earns around $ 3.4 billion a year and with the indication of obesity that could reach up to $ 8 billion at most.
Lilly is initially in the process of selling tirzepatide as a treatment for diabetes, but is also considering obesity; the first pivotal trial of the obesity drug, SURMOUNT-1, is scheduled to be read in April. Everything’s to play in a tough but lucrative market, and it’s no surprise that Lilly is looking over her shoulder at how Novo has handled matters.
RELATED: Demand for Novo Nordisk’s new weight-loss drug Wegovy has exceeded initial supply, analysts say
When asked Tuesday at JP Morgan’s annual healthcare conference on whether to adopt a two-brand strategy rather than lumping all the indications under one umbrella, Ricks said, “We have these discussions. ”
“I can see the pros and cons from all sides,” Ricks said. “It’s clearer why competitors have done this in the past, [as] you had a pretty different market than diabetes for those obesity treatments. ”
In the past, payers were more willing to pay for diabetes drugs at a price they wouldn’t approach for obesity. “And that’s because obesity meant weight loss, not the medicalization of this important modifiable risk factor, which is now modifiable because we have these drugs,” Ricks said.
Ricks sees payers becoming “much more interested in the treatment of obesity,” particularly commercial payers and large self-insured employers. Treating obesity would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, joint problems and many other disorders.
It’s “a huge part of their healthcare cost structure,” Ricks said.
One difference for Lilly is that tirzepatide for obesity will use the same strength as tirzepatide for diabetes.
Using the same dose makes sense for tirzepatide, Ricks said, in part because “the titration is already slow and a bit complicated, so we didn’t want to make it harder than necessary.”
The result ? Lilly will assess whether using two different brands would benefit the business or healthcare providers.
“And if not, that’s fine too,” he said. “I think there are lots of possibilities to expand the use, whether we have two brands or one. And we are focusing on the ultimate benefit to the healthcare system here. “