In 2023, the FDA will likely approve Eli Lilly’s diabetes drug tirzepatide for weight loss.
An Eli Lilly drug if approved for weight loss could become the best-selling drug of all time, but concerns are mounting about who will actually be able to afford it.
Experts are confident that the drug, called tirzepatide, will be granted approval by the Food and Drug Administration sometime next year. If that’s the case, it would join two other popular — and expensive — recently approved weight loss drugs on the market, Wegovy and Saxenda, both from the drugmaker Novo Nordisk.
Annual sales of tirzepatide could hit a record $48 billion, according to an estimate from Bank of America analyst Geoff Meacham. Another Wall Street analyst, Colin Bristow at UBS, estimated the drug would reach $25 billion in annual sales — a figure that would still surpass the record $20.7 billion set by AbbVie’s rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira in 2021.
Kelly Smith, a spokesperson for Eli Lilly, declined to comment on what tirzepatide will cost. Outside experts said it is possible the drugmaker could price it similarly to Wegovy, which carries a list price of around $1,500 for a month’s supply, and Saxenda, which costs about $1,350 for a month’s supply.
If the FDA confirms the drug’s effectiveness, a “fair” price for tirzepatide could be around $13,000 annually, or around $1,100 a month, said Dr. David Rind, the chief medical officer for the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, a research group that helps determine fair prices for drugs.
The drugs have been shown in clinical trials to be highly effective for weight loss. All three drugs — which are given as injections — work in a similar way: They’re a class of drugs called GLP-1 agonists, which mimic a hormone that helps reduce food intake and appetite.
However, Eli Lilly’s tirzepatide also imitates a second hormone, called GIP, which along with reducing appetite, may also improve how the body breaks down sugar and fat.
A phase 3 clinical trial found a high dose of tirzepatide helped patients lose 22.5% of their body weight on average, or about 52 pounds, better than any medication currently on the market. Most patients in the trial had a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher. In trials, Wegovy and Saxenda reduced body weight by around 15% and around 5%, respectively.