Lilly’s Lechleiter: No change in plans

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The global financial press keeps asking John Lechleiter for his end-game strategy to survive Eli Lilly and Co.'s nightmarish patent challenges. And, like a broken record, the Lilly CEO keeps giving the same answer: pipeline, pipeline, pipeline—no mega-merger.

Lechleiter, in comments to the Wall Street Journal and the Swiss newspaper Finanz und Wirtschaft, said Lilly expects an explosion of new drugs from its pipeline, which now consists of 65 different molecules in human testing.

“We're advancing the most exciting pipeline we've ever had in our history,” Lechleiter told the Journal.

Analysts nod at this and say, in effect, yes, but Lilly has launched only one drug in the past five years. In the next eight years, as the Journal noted, Lilly will watch patents expire on eight drugs that now account for three-fourths of its revenue.

But analysts and even some Lilly alumni still active in the industry are scratching their heads and asking why Lechleiter doesn’t make a more aggressive move to prevent a sales swoon in coming years—like a bigger acquisition.

Lechleiter gives his standard response, that larger companies aren’t any more innovative than Lilly can be at its current size. He wants to make small acquisitions, such as Lilly’s July 2 agreement to purchase Massachusetts-based Alnara Pharmaceuticals Inc., which has a cystic fibrosis drug.

"Of course, not all of our product candidates will be successful,” Lechleiter told the Swiss paper, according to Reuters, “but I am convinced that we will compensate for the patent expirations and will continue to grow after this period.”

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