“I Can Eat Whatever I Want Because I’m On Mounjaro!”
Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro could outpace Ozempic as the most powerful treatment on the market. To develop it, the drug company needed to overhaul long-held but failing practices.
By Peter Loftus
April 3, 2023 10:31 am ET
The drug Mounjaro helped a typical person with obesity who weighed 230 pounds lose up to 50 pounds during a test period of nearly 17 months.
No anti-obesity drug has ever safely made such a difference. In the coming months, it is widely expected to get the go-ahead from U.S. health regulators to be prescribed for losing weight and keeping it off, and some patients are already using it unapproved for that purpose.
The advance of Mounjaro, which is already on the market to treat Type 2 diabetes, has excited doctors and patients who have been waiting decades for effective treatments, while helping turn its maker, Eli Lilly & Co., into themost valuable standalone pharmaceutical company in the U.S. with a market value of more than $300 billioN.
It’s a product of Lilly’s recent, sometimes painful overhaul of how it develops drugs. After several costly drug failures, Lilly abandoned some of its long-held practices, including waiting for multiple committees to weigh in before advancing a drug. The company had also been prioritizing its existing successful drug franchises at all costs, sometimes at the expense of promising new treatments.
That now discarded approach would have stifled the development of Mounjaro. Some people inside Lilly discouraged pursuing the drug in the mid-2010s because it might compete with a Lilly product that was already selling well. Overriding these concerns, Lilly pushed its labs to move fast, pursue ambitious projects and worry less about the business ramifications, even if that would mean cannibalizing sales of high-selling products with years of lucrative patent protection left. Lilly scientists were able to chase Mounjaro, and they worked quickly.
“Every program we do, we look at what our competitors have done, who’s done it the fastest, and then we set a goal to go even faster,” said Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s chief scientific and medical officer. “Speed becomes our No. 1 incentive, which is hard because it’s a cultural change.”