Eli Lilly, with donanemab approval in sight, runs emotive TV spot about life with Alzheimer's

Eli Lilly is reminding the world of the decades of work that finally brought it to the cusp of an approval in Alzheimer’s disease. In an emotive TV spot, the drugmaker shows how people with the condition write notes to remember before ending with the line, “30 years of research hasn’t forgotten them.”

Lilly wore its fair share of failures during the dark decades of Alzheimer’s research, when the company and its peers repeatedly tried different drug candidates, in different subpopulations, and kept coming up with the same result. Signs that the tide may be turning have emerged in recent years, with Biogen and Eisai’s Leqembi racking up a phase 3 win on route to FDA approval and Lilly following close behind.

With the FDA expected to rule on Lilly’s donanemab this quarter, the drugmaker has laid the foundations for its entry into the U.S. Alzheimer’s market with a 60-second TV spot. The ad starts with a ticking metronome and a hissing kettle, followed quickly by images of labels applied to household objects.

A cupboard is labeled “cups,” while a plant pot wears a handwritten sticker saying “water once a week.” As a plaintive piano comes in, we see a person making a hot drink, revealing another note—”always turn off the oven”—and preparing to go out. A note at the door reads “check w/ David before leaving.”

The ad then flicks between the present and the past, showing old camcorder footage of a man and his pregnant wife and a young girl running on the beach between more present-day shots of notes around the house. That back and forth continues throughout the rest of the ad, showing the life the person led before developing Alzheimer’s alongside evidence of how the condition now affects them day to day.

As the ad draws to a close, we see a diary entry, seemingly written by the women with Alzheimer’s, that says “you are still you.” The ad then shows the woman reading the diary, next to superimposed text that states “people with Alzheimer’s take notes to remember.” In the final frames, we again see the young girl playing on the beach, this time accompanied by the text “30 years of research hasn’t forgotten them.”

The only reference to the company behind the ad is a Lilly logo above the tagline “A Medicine Company” at the very end of the ad. Running the awareness ad now puts Lilly on a well-trodden path, the next steps on which typically feature drug approval and more discussion of the disease before branded promotion kicks in. 

Things may play out differently in Alzheimer’s, given the factors that are expected to constrain uptake of the medicines. The Leqembi launch appears to be going slower than expected, and Lilly has downplayed the likelihood of donanemab making an immediate commercial impact. 

Talking on a quarterly results conference call this month, Anat Ashkenazi, Lilly’s chief financial officer, said “initial uptake will be somewhat limited” by the “the current state of diagnostic and treatment readiness.” As such, Ashkenazi expects “donanemab to contribute only modestly to growth in 2024 once approved.” 

Analysts are predicting sales will pick up over time. Donanemab came in second on the list of the top 10 most anticipated drug launches of 2024, with analysts tipping the antibody to hit $2.2 billion in annual sales by 2028.