Developing and Marketing a Blockbuster Drug: Lessons from Eli Lilly's Experience with Prozac

By Margaret Eaton, Mark Xu
2006 | Case No. BME6
In 1987, Eli Lilly began to market Prozac, the first available drug in a new class of psychotropic drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Prozac, and other SSRIs that followed it, revolutionized the treatment of depression and changed the philosophy and practice of psychiatry. It allowed depression to be treated by non-psychiatrist physicians, substantially increased the number of depressed patients who had access to treatment, and lowered the cost of treating depression and other mental illnesses. Prozac quickly became the biggest selling drug in the history of the pharmaceutical industry -a “blockbuster,” the industry’s equivalent to hitting a three-run homer out of the park. This case explores the history of Prozac and the factors that combined to make it the best selling drug of all time. It begins with a brief history of depression and the theories that lead some scientists to pursue SSRIs. The case covers Lilly’s uncertain development of Prozac, the thoughtful marketing that went into the launch, and the company’s post-launch marketing strategies as the drug became widely used. The case emphasizes the management difficulties generated by blockbuster drugs, including product lawsuits and patent expirations.
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