Eli Lilly touts early demand for high-stakes diabetes launch Mounjaro: analysts

After snaring approval in May, Eli Lilly’s closely watched diabetes med tirzepatide—now christened Mounjaro—is said to be “tracking at the highest end” of the company’s demand expectations.

That's the word from a team of analysts at Morgan Stanley, who recently met with Lilly’s chief financial officer Anat Ashkenazi. When it comes to meeting that demand, Lilly is “prepared to fully supply Mounjaro” in the U.S., the team wrote to clients Wednesday in a summary of remarks from Ashkenazi.

To keep Mounjaro supply steady, Lilly plans to double incretin manufacturing capacity—benefiting both tirzepatide and Trulicity—by the end of 2023, the analysts said.

At Morgan Stanley's 2022 Global Healthcare Conference, Ashkenazi said that more U.S. Type 2 diabetes patients who are switching over to Mounjaro are coming from the competition, rather than Lilly’s GLP-1 predecessor Trulicity. 

On the reimbursement front, Mounjaro coverage stands at just over 20%, with most patients currently relying on copay cards, the Morgan Stanley team said. Improving access remains a “top priority” for Lilly, which aims to “remain disciplined with respect to discounts,” the Morgan Stanley analysts wrote.

Abroad, meanwhile, Lilly is underway with a “measured" rollout, given shortages of Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide diabetes med Ozempic in certain markets, the team added. The European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use vouched for marketing authorization for Mounjaro in Type 2 diabetes back in July.

Apart from reported Ozempic shortages, a contract manufacturing hitch late last year has forced Novo to endure supply constraints on its obesity newcomer Wegovy in the U.S., where the Danish drugmaker expects to have all strengths of the drug back on tap by year-end.

For its part, Lilly is also angling for an eventual obesity nod for Mounjaro to rival Wegovy. Together, Lilly and Novo could be looking at a global obesity market worth some $50 billion by the end of the decade, Morgan Stanley researchers speculated in a separate note earlier this year.

Should Lilly’s drug pass muster in weight loss, the company feels confident it could supply a potential early U.S. obesity launch in 2023, the analysts wrote this week. Still, Lilly’s base case remains a 2024 launch, which is contingent upon additional phase 3 data, the Morgan Stanley team said.

Earlier this summer, tirzepatide racked up a big weight loss win in the phase 3 SURMOUNT-1 trial. In that study, the med met both its primary endpoints by helping patients chart a superior mean percent change in body weight from baseline as well as helping a greater percentage of patients hit at least 5% body weight reduction versus placebo.

Approved in mid-May as an adjunct to diet and exercise to help Type 2 diabetes patients improve blood sugar control, Mounjaro is in the running for $4.9 billion in sales by 2026, Evaluate Vantage has predicted.

The medicine is a first-in-class, dual-action drug that activates both the glucagon-like peptide-1 and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide receptors. The treatment is injected once a week, and dosing can be tailored to a patient’s needs.

Lilly has long depended on diabetes to drive sales, but obesity could offer an even greater opportunity for Mounjaro. The disease is the “new hypertension,” Morgan Stanley analysts opined earlier this year, with the potential to become “the next blockbuster pharma category.”