For Lilly, it’s a big one that got away

Mark this one in Eli Lilly and Co.’s “Oops!” category.

An experimental medicine for hepatitis C that Lilly helped identify and develop is now on the cusp of market approval. According to an article in Xconomy.com, a biotech trade publication, some analysts are predicting as much as $2 billion in annual U.S. sales after the drug's expected market launch in 2011.

But in December 2002, Lilly sold back its rights to the drug, telaprevir, to its inventor, Massachusetts-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc

Any revenue from telaprevir, which would have been split with Vertex, would have been awfully nice right now for Lilly. The Indianapolis-based drugmaker will watch patents expire on its cancer drug Gemzar in November and its antipsyhotic blockbuster Zyprexa a year later.

Cheaper generic copies will steal the lion’s share of those two drugs’ $6 billion in annual sales.

“It’s a decision that Lilly has to regret,” Xconomy.com reporter Ryan McBride wrote about telaprevir, which proved effective for three out of four patients with hepatitis C, a chronic liver disease, during a large Phase 3 clinical trial.

McBride cited a former Vertex executive who said telaprevir’s champions within Lilly were shuffled off the program, and it subsequently fell down Lilly’s priority list.

Vertex later signed co-development deals with New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson and Japan-based Mitsubishi Tanabe, according to Xconomy.com.

“At Lilly, we regularly review our portfolio and sometimes re-prioritize assets based on resource availability,” Lilly spokesman Mark Taylor said in a statement. “Although we may decide to discontinue internal development of a molecule, we many times try to find ways to allow partner companies to continue the development. We believe this is in the best interest of the patients who may ultimately benefit if a new medicine makes it to the market."

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.