David Ricks

Innovation, at cost

2 minute read

It’s hard for a major pharmaceutical company to launch one successful novel drug on the market, but Dave Ricks, CEO of Eli Lilly, could potentially be overseeing two—in obesity and Alzheimer’s, both areas where there is a huge unmet need and a patient population desperate for solutions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Lilly’s tirzepatide, marketed as Mounjaro for diabetes, in 2022, and Zepbound for obesity in 2023, and the drugs are among the most effective yet in controlling diabetes and weight. 

Ricks is waiting for a decision from the FDA about its Alzheimer’s drug donanemab, a call the agency delayed this spring, citing the need for additional time to review data on its safety and efficacy. One reason for that may have to do with the fact that the drug is the first that patients could stop after a certain period of time, and then use as a maintenance treatment, similar to the way cancers are treated. That would be new for Alzheimer’s, and potentially change the way the disease is managed.

Ricks is aware that drugs are effective only if people use them, and one reason medications from companies like his have been out of reach to many is their price. Earlier this year, the company ventured for the first time beyond developing and manufacturing drugs to providing them to patients through LillyDirect. The website is a combination telehealth and pharmacy through which patients can access Lilly’s medications, often at discounted prices or through programs for specific patients with the greatest medical need who are eligible. Ricks sees such a model as ultimately benefiting not just patients but also the wider health care system, since it increases access to medications like Alzheimer’s treatments. “We need a better way to help people afford care that saves the system money, is low cost to them, and deemed fair for society,” he says.

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