Eli Lilly takes to social media for a personal touch to its Alzheimer's campaign

With Alzheimer’s disease so prevalent, you don’t have to look far to find someone affected by it. Eli Lilly is finding these connections among its own employees and bringing them out into the open.

Pharma companies are usually happy to let their brands do the talking, but Lilly is putting prominent members of its management teams in front of the camera to talk about their experiences with Alzheimer’s in a new disease awareness push. 

Lilly is working on a potential blockbuster Alzheimer's drug donanemab, which is in late-stage testing, and is laying the groundwork, for now unbranded, to get in on the ground floor for conversations about the memory-wasting disease, and have its name more strongly associated with the condition. 

This push includes a YouTube video from its CSO and CMO, Dan Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., called “A Scientist’s Story.” He talks about his own 20-year R&D push to get a new drug onto the market to treat a disease that is amazingly underserved, with few working treatments for the estimated 6.5 million afflicted Americans.

We also hear from Jon Simms, M.D., senior medical director of neuroscience at the pharma, whose grandmother had Alzheimer's. In a “Doctor’s Story,” he talks about his early Navy career and the questions people have about their loved ones’ disease—and whether they may develop the condition themselves in the future.

“We’re now looking at trying to prevent Alzheimer’s disease," Simms says, hoping to get to the point where people like him with a family history can act early “to identify that pathology and try to treat that pathology to prevent people getting the memory losses.”

This follows a broader marketing theme from Lilly which, during its sponsorship of the Olympics Games in Tokyo last year, made a conscious decision to market itself as a company more than ever before, rather than the traditional product-first philosophy the industry typically takes.

Eli Lilly is sitting on a potential $6 billion a year Alzheimer’s drug in donanemab, according to Evaluate Pharma, which could grab FDA approval next year. But one only needs to look over at rival Biogen—which won an accelerated U.S. approval for its similar Alzheimer's drug, Aduhelm, last year—to see how tough a sell this could be.

Aduhelm’s sales have been woeful, amounting to only a few million each quarter. The drug has been dogged by questions about its safety and efficacy along with how it even got approved in the first place.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in April issued a final decision limiting reimbursement for the drug to clinical trials only, eviscerating its commercial potential, unless and until it can prove clinical efficacy and win full FDA approval. Lilly may be painted with the same brush as the CMS said this decision applied to anti-amyloid monoclonal antibodies, the very mechanism donanemab uses.

The CMS decision does apply to drugs approved through the FDA's accelerated pathway, though—a fact that prompted Lilly to delay its initial route for FDA approval until later this year. It's also holding back on sales expectations until a key trial readout next year.

Lilly still clearly wants to get its early awareness marketing off to a strong start, with more Alzheimer's videos from the company to come this year.