Eli Lilly’s obesity drug crunch shows signs of easing in Japan

The US-based pharmaceutical firm is lifting restrictions it placed on its weight loss drug in Japan during a supply shortage.
Photo: George Frey
Photo: George Frey
by bloomberg news

Eli Lilly & Co.’s hefty investment in expanding production capacity for its popular weight-loss and diabetes drugs is starting to pay off in Japan, allowing the company to lift shipment controls it imposed in the country last year.

Lilly last year had to limit shipments of Mounjaro in Japan, where it is approved for treating diabetes, amid a supply crunch. The medicine was also approved for weight loss last year in the US under the brand name Zepbound. 

A steady ramp up of manufacturing capacity, with investments totaling USD 18bn since 2020, is starting to ease the constraint, Simone Thomsen, the company’s Japan president told Bloomberg TV on Thursday.

”Here in Japan, when we started last year, we had to control some of the shipments,” Thomsen said, “I’m happy to share that supply here in Japan is stable and we have lifted this control.”

The growing popularity of weigh-loss medicines developed by Lilly and rival Novo Nordisk A/S has heaped increasing pressure on manufacturing to keep up with rising demand that Bloomberg Intelligence estimate could spawn into a $80 billion market by the end of the decade. 

In Japan, the company is investing ¥7 billion yen (USD 45m) to expand capacity at its Kobe plant. “By the end of this year, we will have finalized the expansion, and the new modalities will going into production next year,” she said.

The company is limiting launches of the drugs outside the US while capacity ramps up. Lilly has yet to launch Mounjaro for weight loss in Europe, where it’s been approved for several months. The drug won approval in China for diabetes earlier, but Lilly “won’t launch it,” said chief executive officer Dave Ricks. 

In its latest bid to address the persistent shortage, Lilly announced an investment of USD 5.3bn for a facility in Indiana to make tirzepatide, the active ingredient for Mounjaro last month.

Lilly is now seeking for the same drug to be approved in Japan for weight loss. Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk’s weight-loss medicine Wegovy has already been approved in the country. 

English edit: Catherine Brett

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