Weight loss, diabetes drugs propel Eli Lilly to better-than-expected forecast

Eli Lilly rode soaring demand for diabetes and weight-loss treatments to a better-than-expected finish in 2023, and the drugmaker expects momentum to carry into the new year.

Lilly said on Tuesday that revenue could climb as much as 22% this year, as star sellers like the diabetes drug Mounjaro and its new weight-loss counterpart, Zepbound, gain market share. But the company is still struggling to make enough Mounjaro to satisfy high demand.

Mounjaro sales jumped 65% to $2.21 billion in the fourth quarter compared with the third quarter. Doctors also prescribe that drug off-label for weight loss, which is one of the hottest areas of pharmaceutical sales.

Lilly says demand has made it difficult to fill orders for Mounjaro and led to delays. The company expects that problem to persist while it adds manufacturing capacity. An expansion in North Carolina that the company started a few years ago is expected to begin production at the end of this year.

Lilly Chairman and CEO David Ricks told analysts on Tuesday that there was no quick solution to supply issues. He noted, for instance, that new manufacturing sites are complex to build and the supply of machines that make the drugs is constrained.

Still, he does expect the problem to ease over time.

“There’ll be steady gains in manufacturing over the coming several years and perhaps bigger gains after that,” he said.

Zepbound, a new version of Mounjaro, registered about $176 million in sales during the final weeks of the fourth quarter after it became the latest drug approved for weight management in November.

The data firm FactSet says analysts expect around $1.9 billion in sales from Zepbound this year. They see sales climbing to $12 billion in a few years.

Company leaders also told analysts Tuesday that they were dealing with supply problems and delays for the company’s top seller, the diabetes treatment Trulicity. Sales of that drug slipped 14% in the fourth quarter.

Overall, Lilly booked a $2.19 billion profit in the final quarter of 2023. Earnings adjusted for one-time items came to $2.49 per share. Revenue grew 28% to $9.35 billion.

Analysts expect adjusted earnings of $2.30 per share on $8.95 billion in revenue.

For the new year, Lilly predicts adjusted earnings of $12.20 to $12.70 per share, a range that falls mostly above the Wall Street consensus of $12.39 per share.

Lilly expects a Food and Drug Administration decision in this year’s first quarter on its potential Alzheimer’s treatment, donanemab. But Lilly officials said Tuesday that donanemab will only contribute modestly to the company’s growth this year. They expect initial use of that drug to limited.

Lilly shares slipped 14 cents to $706.06 in midday trading while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose slightly.

The stock price topped $700 for the first time on Monday, and has already set several new all-time high marks just this year. The share price for Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. has climbed over 400% since the start of the decade.

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