Digital health unicorn Ro is pushing deeper into weight management with a $30 million preorder of weight loss pill Plenity for its members.
Plenity, an FDA-approved pill produced by Gelesis that expands in the stomach to mimic the effect of vegetables and make the patient feel fuller, is poised to become the second most popular product on Ro’s platform.
The multimillion-dollar preorder will ensure access to the pills among Ro members as demand continues to escalate, the company said.
Founded in 2017 with a focus on men’s health, Ro provides a wide range of services on its platform including prescription delivery, telehealth and in-home care.
The company has further expanded its offerings this year with the addition of virtual mental health services and the acquisitions of multiple startups, including at-home testing company Kit and women’s health startup Modern Fertility.
Zachariah Reitano, CEO of Ro, told Fierce Healthcare that when the company asked its members for feedback, weight management was the top requested service.
After Plenity received FDA clearance, Ro announced a beta launch of the weight loss aid among its members in 2020, but “demand quickly outpaced supply,” the companies said.
Now, Gelesis has built a larger manufacturing facility to ensure it can meet the growing interest among the over 60,000 Ro members that have started on Plenity.
As a common comorbidity alongside conditions like diabetes and hypertension, obesity is often best treated within a complete care plan. Ro’s vertically integrated model ensures its members can receive that care at all levels, which not all digital health companies can offer, Reitano said.
“This rise in digital health has been amazing, but with that is going to come this rise in point solutions—single-product, single-feature companies. That’s great if that’s all someone ever needed, but it’s so unlikely that a patient will only ever need one thing,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is build the technology from beginning to end to both handle that single concern at that moment, but also to be able to handle their overall care and really be that first call for them.”
Reitano takes the lesson of holistic patient care from his father, a former internist who specialized in infectious diseases.
“When your dad is your doctor, yes, they care about you in a clinical perspective, but they do it insofar as they care about you living a happy and fulfilled life,” he said. “They see you not just for one thing. My dad saw me for everything, and from beginning to end. And when he himself couldn’t help me, he would guide me to those who could.”
Reitano’s father started taking Plenity himself after his doctor prescribed the pill in early 2020.
On Plenity, in combination with diet and exercise, Reitano said his dad has lost 40 pounds—and “everyone in my family is so happy because of it,” he said.
Getting Plenity was easy for Reitano’s father, whose doctor is a leading weight management expert in New York City. But for many Ro members across the country, Reitano said, receiving consultations virtually and getting Plenity delivered right to their door helped break down access barriers.
What’s more, receiving virtual care can reduce the potential embarrassment or shame often associated with weight management, said David Pass, Gelesis' chief commercial and operating officer.
“We’ve actually gotten feedback from members who went through Ro versus through their physician, and the overall experience via telehealth was more positive,” he said.
He added that many patients said they wouldn’t have asked their physician about weight management in the first place if not for telehealth.
Plenity isn’t technically a drug, so it’s not addictive, and acts locally in the gastrointestinal tract without being absorbed into the patient’s circulation, Pass said. Nearly 70,000 patients have started taking Plenity since its launch, a number the company expects to continue trending upward in the coming months.
Doctors across the country can prescribe Plenity, but Ro is Gelesis’ exclusive telehealth partner. Pass dubbed the partnership “synergistic.”
“They are all about access and making sure the patient has choice,” he said. “That experience was important.”
Reitano said the company plans to allocate additional resources to weight management in the future alongside its other offerings and even consider smart scales to help patients track their weight progress.
“We’ll absolutely continue to invest here, because there are different treatments that work for different people, and our providers need the ability to have the full breadth of the platform at their fingertips,” he said.