2021 Indiana 100: Taltz leader sees more potential for blockbuster Lilly drug

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Mathilde Merlet
Eli Lilly and Co.
Taltz global brand development leader

Mathilde Merlet oversees one of Lilly’s fastest-growing products, a medicine called Taltz that treats a variety of dermatology and rheumatology disorders. Taltz, launched in 2016, rang up sales last year of $1.8 billion, making it Lilly’s fourth-best-selling and third-fastest-growing medicine.

Merlet, 36, moved to Indianapolis last year from her native France, and now lives in the Fall Creek Place neighborhood just north of downtown with her husband, Thomas. She has worked for Lilly for 10 years, joining as a financial analyst and has served as chief operating officer for Lilly France. She has a master’s degree in management and finance from HEC Paris.

(IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

It’s been a decade since Lilly made the decision to enter the immunology area, where drugs use the body’s immune system to fight diseases. What are the opportunities today?

Taltz was the foundation of our entry into the immunology space. It is an exceptional molecule. What we saw during our clinical trials is now confirmed in real life, because we have now more than 175,000 patients treated with Taltz.

And so, I think the impact that we were able to make for patients has also translated into a success for our company. And it has opened the way for the rest of the immunology platform and other molecules like Olumiant [for rheumatoid arthritis] and others that we have in the pipeline and that will be launched in the coming years.

Taltz entered blockbuster territory in 2019, and the last time I looked, Goldman Sachs predicted that sales could hit $2.5 billion by 2025. But it looks like you might hit that goal much sooner.

Well, we will see. I don’t have a crystal ball. But what I can say is, the growth is solid. I think we can be optimistic about the role of Taltz.

Yet the drug is expensive, with a list price of about $5,000 a month. Tell me why it costs so much.

Well, as you said, it’s the list price. The reality for patients is different [because many insurers reimburse most of the price]. Taltz is a biologic product. And so, it’s a challenge to manufacture it. And it’s also the result of years of research and development, which are costly. So, there is value in this brand that can change lives of people who are living with very tough and chronic conditions.

Taltz is approved for five immunology disorders. What’s next for the drug?

As we continue to develop this molecule, we’re being mindful of how we can improve patient care. When I say that, I refer to, “How can we improve our device?,” because Taltz is an injectable. So, how can we use technology to ease patients’ lives through applications or other technologies?

Patients have a daily burden they are living with, and it is our duty to ensure that the support the patients get on top of the drug itself is answering their needs and that we improve on that over and over.

How did you end up in the pharmaceutical industry?

That started when I was a student. I needed to earn money to fund my own studies, and I got a job in a pharmaceutical company. It was not a very skilled job at the time, but I was so happy I could earn money. I started to talk to people around me and learn about other jobs. That’s really where the interest for me started. And then I did a very long internship at [French drugmaker] Sanofi-Aventis. And right after school, I decided to start my career at [U.S.-based biotech] Genzyme.

I’ve always worked in the pharma industry. And I don’t think that’s going to change soon because I love this area. I think it’s a privilege to work for such a meaningful industry.

You’ve spent most of your life in France. What is your favorite spot in Paris to show visitors?

If I had to pick just one thing, I would choose any nice little cafe in the heart of Paris, because I think it represents the lifestyle that I like in Paris, where you are able to just sit down and actually talk to your neighbor or read the newspaper and see the city life.

So now you’re a Hoosier. What does that word mean to you?

What I can say is, I’ve experienced this Hoosier hospitality since we arrived here. This is one of the most striking things for my husband and me, how welcoming people are in the neighborhood but also at work. I think when you are a stranger arriving in a foreign country, it just makes everything easier and nicer when you are welcomed this way. There is something about the Hoosier spirit.

What do you like to do when you’re not busy working?

Since we arrived in the U.S., it’s all about traveling and discovering new places, new areas, new people. So, I’ve traveled a lot since we settled in. When we don’t travel, I say it’s a mix of doing sports outdoors with friends and also a lot of music—either listening to music or playing the flute.

What kind of outdoor activities do you like here?

I run and I also bike. It was a very good surprise for me in Indianapolis. There are some fantastic biking routes in the city and outside the city. I’ve been doing a lot of exploring in Indy with my bike.•

Check out more of IBJ’s ranking of Indy’s fastest-growing companies.

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