CEO Lechleiter says Lilly in ‘most prolific period of new launches’

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Eli Lilly and Co., which struggled through much of the past five years as a slew of blockbuster products lost their patent exclusivity, has big expectations for next decade.

The Indianapolis-based drugmaker said Tuesday it has built a robust pipeline of drugs that “has the potential” to launch 20 new products in the 10 years between 2014 and 2023.

If true, that would rank among the most productive periods for Lilly since the company was founded in 1876.

“We believe we are in the midst of the most prolific period of new launches in our company’s 140-year history,” Lilly CEO John Lechleiter told investors at a presentation in New York that focused on the company’s research and development efforts.

Lilly needs to boost its annual revenues, which have fallen about 17 percent since 2011. That occurred as top-selling products for schizophrenia, depression and osteoporosis lost patent protection and rang up lower sales, due to generic competition.

In January, Lechleiter told investors at a JPMorgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco that the company had successfully navigated through the tough years and was positioned to rebound.

Now, he is telling investors to get ready for a slew of new products, primarily in five areas: diabetes, cancer, immunology, neurodegeneration (such as Alzheimer’s disease) and pain.

“Seldom at my tenure at Lilly has there been a more exciting time,” Lechleiter said.

So far this year, Lilly has launched Taltz for psoriasis and a new injection pen for delivering insulin shots.

Lilly said the boost in output is possible because of actions it has taken to increase quality and speed, and by working more with outsiders. Several other products are awaiting review by the Food and Drug Administration, including a medicine for arthritis called baricitinib.

The company has increased investment in early-stage research by 45 percent over the past eight years. Over the same time, it has increased early-stage compounds entering clinical testing by 50 percent. It has shrunk the cycle of first human doses to launch by more than two years.

That means that Lilly can expect to launch up to two new drugs a year, “something that’s unprecedented in our history,” said Dr. Dan Skovronsky, Lilly’s senior vice president for clinical and product development.

In addition, Lilly could launch an average of two new indications or line extensions for already-approved products per year during the same period, the company said.

A new "indication" refers to an additional approved use of a drug for treating diseases. A new “line extension” refers to a new version of a previously approved drug.

The upbeat comments did not seem to have a big effect on Lilly’s stock. Shares edged up less than 1 percent in morning trading, to $74.64 each.


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