Lark Health, a digital chronic condition management platform, is expanding its weight management solution for health plans and employers to help manage the surging consumer demand for pricey obesity drugs.
The company is leveraging its capabilities with conversational AI health coaching and managing chronic conditions to offer clinical screening and prescribing of newer weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy as well as ongoing clinical management and digital coaching to drive behavior change.
Launched in 2011, Lark Health's platform has since grown to reach nearly 2 million people to support managing their diabetes, weight loss, hypertension and behavioral health needs. The company uses conversational AI, connected devices, remote patient monitoring and elements of behavioral science techniques to help users manage health conditions. Lark works with 2,000 employers and many of the largest health plans.
The company now offers three new services—a weight management program, a GLP-1 companion program and a clinician-guided step therapy program—all of which leverage the sustained behavior change, lifestyle management and remote patient monitoring the company is known for, executives said.
GLP-1 drugs play an important part in managing obesity, but providing support with behavior change and drug management are equally important components, Peter Antall, M.D., Lark Health's chief medical officer and president of its medical networks, told Fierce Healthcare in an exclusive interview about the new program's rollout.
The trendy new class of weight loss drugs, called GLP-1s, has created enormous demand and off-label use. National spending for semaglutide, the peptide name for brand drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, totaled $10.7 billion in 2021, the fourth highest across drug classes.
In 2022, more than 5 million prescriptions for Ozempic, tirzepatide, Rybelsus, semaglutide or Wegovy were written for weight management. Between the first quarter of 2020 and the fourth quarter of 2022, prescription volumes for GLP-1 medications have increased 300%, according to data from Trilliant Health.
"I think that we're at an inflection point in healthcare. There have only been a few moments in my medical career where we've seen the treatment of a disease change so dramatically," Antall said. "I think back to Prozac, went it came out for depression. I think of Lipitor, when we found out that Lipitor was protecting the heart more than we thought it was more than just lowering cholesterol. We've recognized as an industry that obesity is a chronic disease. It's not a lifestyle choice. It's not cosmetic. It's really at the center of so much that can go wrong with your healthcare. We're excited to increase our focus on obesity and obesity-related care simply because it's at the center of so much else that's happening with our patients."
But as demand surges for GLP-1 therapies, many employers have seen their pharma costs skyrocket. As a result of the high price tag on these therapies, some insurers are pulling back on coverage.
Employers are already feeling the financial hit, Antall said. "I think employers are responding to the demand from their employees, but, at the same token, they're worried about the cost. Our approach is to meet an employer or health plan where they are, working with their policies, to try to find the right balance between medical need and financial costs."
Healthcare providers wrote more than 9 million prescriptions for Ozempic and similar drugs in the final three months of 2022, according to a new analysis from data analytics company Trilliant Health. Notably, just over half of patients (53.8%) taking these medications have a history of Type 2 diabetes or have an associated medical visit with their prescription, which indicates that providers are prescribing these drugs off-label.
An uptick in off-label use and lack of effective condition management is a concern for physicians, Antall noted.
Many medical professionals are not trained to provide obesity care. In the U.S., less than 100 actively practicing doctors have completed a fellowship in obesity medicine,
"These medications aren't being used very effectively in the wild, such as being prescribed by primary care clinicians in the community. We have a med adherence problem. Physicians are good at diagnosing, prescribing and procedures. We're not so good at coaching. We believe that what patients really need if they're going to go on these medications is to be heavily supported to ensure med adherence because you only get results if you stay on the medication," he said.
Antall joined Lark Health just three months ago. He spent nine years at Amwell as president of its provider network and as chief medical officer, where he established and managed the telehealth medical network. "The healthcare system is increasingly focusing on the high-spend chronic disease patients. I felt like Lark had a novel approach with technology first, using AI to organize clinical content and personalize it for the members," he said.
The company's weight management program offers users AI-driven personalized coaching on lifestyle modification, including nutrition, physical activity, sleep and stress. Lark's new GLP-1 companion program combines coaching on lifestyle modification along with side effect management, medication adherence support and clinical escalations as necessary.
The company also offers an end-to-end clinician-led program, offering insurance navigation, prescription management, lab monitoring and ongoing management to ensure continuity of care.
Lark offers one of the largest diabetes prevention programs, which is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-recognized lifestyle change program and has received Full Recognition, the CDC’s highest level of certification.
"Whether it’s AI or now, GLP-1s, Lark is always focused on being a responsible partner when it comes to navigating the healthcare industry's biggest disrupters. We are excited to expand our capabilities to support the appropriate use and effectiveness of these game-changing new medications,” said Julia Hu, Lark CEO and co-founder, in a statement. “Our track record of using tech and AI to help more than two million patients with coaching and education to prevent or manage chronic conditions gives us a strong foundation. We believe this expansion will help more people achieve better results and a better quality of life.”
Lark Health has raised a total of $185 million in equity and debt funding to date, banking $100 million in a series D funding round in 2021 backed by Deerfield Management Company.
Surging demand for obesity treatments has opened up considerable market opportunities for virtual care players. Many digital health companies have jumped into the space by launching weight management programs or expand existing services including Teladoc, Hims & Hers, Omada Health and Hello Alpha, and Weight Watchers bought digital health platform Sequence.
Earlier this month, FORM, a virtual obesity medicine clinic, officially launched FORMfit, a new program helping employers expand access to clinical obesity care while managing costs.