Paul, Lilly put trust in AstraZeneca vet

November 18, 2009

The top scientist at Eli Lilly and Co. will have to trust a company outsider to see if his aggressive transformation of Lilly’s research and development arm pays off.

Dr. Steve Paul, executive vice president of science and technology at the Indianapolis-based drugmaker, will retire in February. He will be replaced by Jan M. Lundberg, who is executive vice president of global discovery research at London-based drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc.

Paul, 59, took over Lilly’s R&D operations in 2003. His early years were marked by a flurry of drug launches, including Cymbalta, Strattera, Forteo and Byetta.

But by then the Lilly pipeline was tapped out. Paul’s team wouldn’t claim another launch until the blood thinner Effient hit the market in August of this year.

Paul worked feverishly to replenish Lilly’s stable of experimental drugs. From 2006 to 2008, he more than doubled the number of molecules in clinical testing to 60.

Paul also oversaw various Lilly efforts to speed processes for getting drugs into human testing as well as efforts to lower the cost. Two years ago, Lilly was spending $1.2 million for each new drug; Paul has been pushing to get it down to $800 million per new drug.

Wall Street analysts have been nonplussed by all this effort, saying they can’t give Lilly credit for its pipeline until more drugs are in the late stages of testing. They say Lilly’s pipeline has nothing in it that can come close to replacing the revenue it will lose when cheaper generics take away more than half of Lilly’s current sales beginning late next year and running through 2014.

So Paul now has to count on Lundberg to shepherd a few of those 60 molecules through testing and to the market. So, too, do Lilly investors.

Paul, in a statement, said, "Jan possesses the right mix of scientific expertise and industry experience needed to advance the innovative pipeline of this company."

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