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May 29, 2024

Eli Lilly Launches Direct-to-Consumer Telehealth Platform, Drawing Praise and Controversy

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Jan 5, 2024

Eli Lilly, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, made waves this week with the launch of LillyDirect, an end-to-end digital healthcare experience allowing patients to access medications and healthcare support for certain chronic conditions from the comfort of their homes. Specifically, LillyDirect aims to expand access to the company’s newer drugs for treating obesity, diabetes, and migraine.

The platform enables patients to participate in online visits with medical providers, get prescriptions, have medications delivered to their doorstep, and receive digital support. While lauded by some as an innovative way to improve patient access and outcomes, LillyDirect has also prompted warnings from the company itself and outside critics about the potential for inappropriate use.

High Hopes for Improving Access and Adherence

LillyDirect represents a bold move deeper into the digital healthcare landscape for Eli Lilly, which has come under pressure from investors to diversify revenue streams beyond prescription drug sales. Industry analysts seem bullish on the platform’s potential to capture more value.

“This end-to-end model is game-changing,” said Stephen Brozak, president of WBB Securities.

Lilly aims to use the direct-to-patient approach to “simplify chronic disease management” and address persistent issues like access barriers and sub-optimal adherence to medication regimes. Early data indicates poor compliance is distressingly common even among patients taking drugs for serious conditions like diabetes.

This new care delivery model provides end-to-end support, patient education, transparency around out-of-pocket costs and delivery to the patient’s doorstep.

“Our aim is to make the experience of obtaining treatment and engaging in one’s care journey as simple and accessible as possible,” explained Mike Mason, president of Lilly Diabetes.

Condition Medications Available via LillyDirect
Diabetes Rapid-acting insulins, SGLT2 inhibitors, GLP-1 receptor agonists, basal insulins
Obesity GLP-1 receptor agonists tirzepatide (Mounjaro) and tirzepatide ozempic (Zepbound)
Migraine Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors galcanezumab-gnlm (Emgality) and Fremanezumab-vfrm (Ajovy)

Controversy Over Off-Label Use for Weight Loss

However, LillyDirect isn’t without controversy. Of note, the company specifically called out concerns over inappropriate use of GLP-1 diabetes drugs Mounjaro and Zepbound for cosmetic weight loss rather than treating obesity or diabetes.

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks issued an open letter stating Lilly “cannot and will not promote” off-label use of “medicines that have been approved for weight loss for people living with obesity.”

“We cannot condone the misuse – and marketing – of any of our medicines for indications that have not been approved,” Ricks added.

This attempt at damage control comes amid wider questioning around access to medications that show promising weight loss side effects even when prescribed for other conditions like Type 2 diabetes.

Critics argue LillyDirect will only serve to increase sales – and raise sticker prices – of Mounjaro and Zepbound. There is justified skepticism that the platform’s online doctor visits will sufficiently screen patients, especially given pent-up demand for weight loss assistance.

Table: Mounjaro and Zepbound Approved Uses vs Common Off-Label Use

Medication Approved Use Off-Label Use
Mounjaro Chronic weight management in adults with obesity or overweight Cosmetic weight loss
Zepbound Chronic weight management in adults with obesity or overweight Cosmetic weight loss

On social media and internet forums, patients have discussed obtaining Mounjaro and Zepbound prescriptions from telehealth platforms and doctors who may prescribe more liberally, knowingly or not, for weight loss versus FDA sanctioned uses in chronic weight management.

What Happens Next?

It remains to be seen whether LillyDirect can drive improved patient outcomes through greater access, affordability and adherence — or simply higher sales. With Lilly’s stock reaching all-time highs, investors may have already priced in success of this digital health pivot.

There are also open questions around how the platform might continue evolving. Will Lilly integrate escalating controversial technologies like mental health support apps, at-home diagnostic testing, remote patient monitoring tools or even experiment with prescription fulfillment drones at some point? Partnerships could support expansion into delivering drugs for a wider range of chronic conditions.

While optimism around LillyDirect abounds in various quarters, responsible access, ethical prescribing behavior, patient privacy protections and equitable access will need to be priorities if this ambitious direct-to-patient drug platform is to improve public health instead of shareholder value alone.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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