Ro launches GLP-1 supply tracker to help patients manage shortages

GLP-1 Supply Tracker from Ro.

With thanks to: Ro

Telehealth company Ro launched one on Wednesday new tracker to help patients find a popular class of weight loss and diabetes medications called GLP-1s amid shortages of those treatments in the U.S.

The supply tracker could be a valuable tool for many Americans scrambling to get their hands on GLP-1s, such as Novo Nordisk's weight loss injection Wegovy and diabetes drug Ozempic. Demand for these drugs has far exceeded supply over the past year, causing Novo Nordisk and Eli Lillythe dominant players in the market, to invest heavily in scaling up production.

The tracker aims to make GLP-1 supply information more transparent and accessible to everyone, regardless of whether they are enrolled in one of Ro's programs. The company is one of several digital health companies offering weight-loss programs that allow users to obtain a GLP-1 prescription and access coaching and other services.

The tracker is an interactive tool that gives people real-time delivery information by drug, dose size and pharmacy location. Existing drug shortage databases including An managed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, often do not share localized data.

“We're trying to make it as easy as possible for patients and caregivers to get a snapshot of what's available and what's not, and do it in the fastest way possible,” Zachariah Reitano, co-founder and CEO of Ro, told a news conference. interview to CNBC.

He added that the GLP-1 shortages feel like a “national health care crisis.”

“I don't think people fully realize that life-saving and life-changing medications that could benefit well over 100 million people in the U.S. are currently in significant shortages, and patients are having problems with them every month,” Reitano said.

Ro has chosen to make the tool free for everyone because there is no 'basic inventory management system' for GLP-1s, making it an important contribution to the broader community that relies on these drugs, according to Reitano. He added that opening the tracker to everyone also makes it more likely that both Ro patients and people not enrolled in the company's programs will have access to GLP-1s.

Ro Telehealth GLP-1 inventory tracker.

With thanks to: Ro

Anyone, including doctors, can submit an update to Ro's tracker by using a report about the availability or shortage of a GLP-1 at a specific pharmacy in their area. Users have the option to automatically report that information to the FDA.

Ro will update the tracker based on its own delivery data, which is generated when the company's patients log that they have successfully picked up their medication from a pharmacy. Ro will also update the tracker with the latest information from the FDA, according to the company.

To ensure there is a real shortage of a drug, the tracker takes into account a combination of speed, location and number of submissions, according to Reitano. For example, one notification over a two-month period will not affect the tracker.

Reitano said Ro has been building the GLP-1 tracker for about two months. The company doesn't work directly with the FDA, but by providing the agency with more real-time data, it can keep the shortage list as current as possible, he said.

This in turn means that doctors can make more informed choices about the best medications to prescribe to patients. Reitano said

“If that list is outdated compared to reality, then you're going to write a prescription, assuming the patient can get access to it,” Reitano said. “That's not the case, or they may start but not continue, and that causes disruptions in their treatment.”

Individuals can sign up to receive automatic email alerts about when a specific GLP-1 drug becomes available at a nearby pharmacy. The tracker also alerts patients about changes in the supply of a GLP-1 in the FDA's drug shortage database.

The alerts include instructions to request a pharmacy transfer the prescription to another location where inventory is available. Each patient can also send a message to Ro's care team to transfer prescriptions on his/her behalf.

GLP-1 Supply Tracker from Ro.

With thanks to: Ro

Ro leans further towards GLP-1s

Founded as Roman in 2017, Ro has been helping patients treat obesity since 2020. Reitano told CNBC in March that after the FDA approved Wegovy in 2021, patient questions about the medication started pouring in by the “tens of thousands.”

As a result, the company launched a GLP-1 program called the Ro Body program early last year.

Ro can prescribe medications such as Ozempic and Wegovy, and also offers compounded versions of GLP-1s if there is a shortage of branded versions. Compounded GLP-1s are customized alternatives to brand-name drugs designed to meet the needs of a specific patient.

More CNBC health coverage

Since launching the Body Program, Ro has become all too familiar with the challenges that can arise from a lack of supply. The company temporarily halted advertising of the program last year due to shortages, offering refunds and credits to patients who could not pick up their medications within 30 days of receiving a prescription.

Reitano said the company made more than 50,000 calls to transfer prescriptions to different pharmacies between July and August last year.

Reitano hopes the tracker will make it easier for patients and healthcare providers to find GLP-1 supplies and notify the FDA of shortages in real time, especially as demand for the drugs continues to grow.

But he said his “greatest hope” is that Ro's supply tracker will become “useless” in three years as more GLP-1 supply comes to market and eases shortages.

“That's better for us, it's better for the patients, it's better for the health care system too,” Reitano told CNBC.

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