Eli Lilly faucets Amazon Pharmacy to assist ship Zepbound, different medication

Close-up of a hand holding a cellphone displaying the Amazon Pharmacy system, Lafayette, California, September 15, 2021. 

Smith Collection | Gado | Getty Images

Eli Lilly on Wednesday said Amazon Pharmacy will help send certain prescription drugs, including the red-hot weight loss treatment Zepbound, to patients’ homes through the drugmaker’s new direct-to-consumer program. 

Starting Wednesday, Amazon Pharmacy can deliver certain drugs from Eli Lilly that are prescribed for obesity, diabetes or migraine to patients who order them from the drugmaker’s direct sales website, according to an email from Eli Lilly. It is the second online pharmacy to partner with Eli Lilly’s platform, and can provide two-day deliveries to certain patients.

The website, LillyDirect, connects people with an independent telehealth company that can prescribe certain drugs if they are eligible. The site also offers a home-delivery option if the prescribed treatment is Eli Lilly’s, tapping a third-party online pharmacy to fill prescriptions and send them directly to patients. 

LillyDirect, which launched in January, aims to make Zepbound and other drugs easier for patients to access. It eliminates the need to go to the doctor for a prescription and, in some cases, to a pharmacy to fill it.

The site is one of several ways companies are moving to disrupt the complex system for distributing, pricing and prescribing drugs in the U.S., in part as they face more political pressure to cut consumer costs. 

The new partnership with Amazon comes as the popularity of Zepbound and other weight loss drugs soars because of their ability to help patients lose significant weight over time. But Eli Lilly has struggled to meet demand, and many of those drugs have faced intermittent shortages over the last year.

Eli Lilly has not said how many patients have used LillyDirect so far. But in an email on Tuesday, the company said it has seen “significant interest in the platform.” LillyDirect plans to expand the medicines it offers and the companies it partners with in the future, Eli Lilly said.

Amazon Pharmacy offers free two-day deliveries to patients with an Amazon Prime membership, which will also apply if they use LillyDirect.

“I think it’s a wonderful advantage,” Frank Cunningham, Eli Lilly’s senior vice president of global value and access, said of Amazon’s two-day delivery option during an interview. “The goal is to have a fantastic customer experience where the product gets to them as soon as possible.”

Cunningham did not disclose how many days it typically takes for the site’s other pharmacy partner – digital health startup Truepill – to deliver medicines to patients. But he told CNBC that Eli Lilly expects Amazon Pharmacy and Truepill to have similar processing and shipping times.

Amazon Pharmacy Vice President John Love told CNBC that it is examining how it can deliver drugs faster than two days. 

“We actually don’t think that’s a high enough bar. We’re still getting started,” he said in an interview. “But this is what I think makes us an attractive partner and collaborator for all sorts of folks like Lilly, payers, providers who are looking for a different type of pharmacy.” 

An injection pen of Zepbound, Eli Lilly’s weight loss drug, is displayed in New York City on Dec. 11, 2023.

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

Patients aren’t required to use LillyDirect’s telehealth services to access the home delivery option, according to the site.

Once a patient receives a prescription for a certain Eli Lilly drug, they can ask their health-care professional to select LillyDirect as the pharmacy within their provider’s electronic health records system that will dispense the medication. The prescription will then be routed to LillyDirect, which will deliver the drug to the patient’s door either through Amazon Pharmacy or Truepill. 

Eli Lilly in an email said the majority of prescription drug deliveries will be split between the two partners. But the company noted that there will be some instances where one online pharmacy will be more appropriate than the other for a delivery based on the patient’s “individual details,” including their insurance network. 

Along with home delivery, Amazon Pharmacy will offer 24/7 access to clinical pharmacists for patients who have questions about the medications they receive, chief medical officer Dr. Vin Gupta told CNBC. 

Those pharmacists are especially important for new patients on weight loss injections such as Zepbound. Those drugs are known to have a handful of side effects, including nausea and vomiting.

“We can walk them through that journey and make them feel like they have support because a provider may not have time and may not be accessible for all of those questions,” Gupta said. “There is clinical excellence and clinical support that is not widely available in the pharmacy ecosystem that we’re providing.”

John Love, Vice President of Amazon Pharmacy, talks about healthcare delivery by drone during Amazon’s “Delivering the Future” event at the company’s BFI1 Fulfillment Center, Robotics Research and Development Hub in Sumner, Washington on October 18, 2023.

Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

This isn’t the first time Amazon has collaborated with Eli Lilly. In August, Amazon worked with Eli Lilly and other companies to add more than 15 coupons for insulin and diabetes medicine to the online pharmacy.

Amazon shook up the retail drug store space when it acquired online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 and later rolled out Amazon Pharmacy in 2020. That was part of Amazon’s broader multi-year push into health care. The company also bought primary care provider One Medical for roughly $3.9 billion in 2022.

In February, Amazon confirmed to CNBC that it had eliminated hundreds of jobs in its pharmacy and One Medical divisions as CEO Andy Jassy aggressively cuts costs at the company.

But Amazon is seeing “tremendous growth” from Amazon Pharmacy, One Medical and its virtual health clinic, Neil Lindsay, who leads Amazon Health Services, wrote in a memo to employees last month. Lindsay did not provide specific metrics.

Amazon Pharmacy has increased its presence in the broader health-care industry over the last year.

A major California health insurer, Blue Shield of California, announced it will no longer use health-care giant CVS as its pharmacy benefits manager and instead will partner with several other businesses, including Amazon Pharmacy.

–CNBC’s Annie Palmer contributed to this report.

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