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Lilly exec Azar departs as new CEO makes organizational changes

January 5, 2017

The president of Eli Lilly and Co.’s U.S. operations is leaving the company in the midst of a company reorganization, while an outsider has been hired to lead a major unit.

The Indianapolis-based drugmaker announced a series of changes Thursday, just five days after David Ricks took office as chief executive, succeeding John Lechleiter, who retired after nine years as CEO. Ricks said the moves are intended to maximize potential of the company’s pipeline and newly launched medicines, while increasing productivity.

Alex Azar, president of Lilly USA LLC since 2012, is leaving the company “to pursue other career opportunities,” just as his unit is about to lose a huge swath of sales personnel in layoffs.

In December, Lilly notified more than 500 workers they will lose their jobs by the end of March unless they find other positions in the company. Less than 75 are based in Indiana, according to state workforce development officials.

The move came after the failure of an much-anticipated experimental drug for Alzheimer’s disease called solanezumab, and prior to the upcoming patent expiration of several major products, including erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, ADHD drug Strattera and bloodthinner Effient.

As president of Lilly’s U.S. subsidiary, Azar had profit-and-loss responsibility for a series of products for Lilly Bio-Medicines, one of the drugmaker’s largest divisions. Azar, who has been with Lilly since 2007, formerly served as senior vice president for corporate affairs and communications, and as vice president for managed healthcare services and Puerto Rico. He was previously deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are grateful for his leadership and wish him well in this next chapter of his professional life,” Ricks said in a written statement. Azar could not be reached for a comment.

Azar’s duties for the U.S. subsidiary will be taken over by Enrique Conterno, who will also continue as senior vice president of Lilly and president of Lilly Diabetes.

Lilly also announced the it has hired Christi Shaw to lead the Bio-Medicines division, succeeding Ricks. Shaw worked at Lilly from 1989 to 2002 in sales and marketing roles, but most recently served as president of Novartis USA and previously was North American region head of Novartis Oncology. She previously worked in the Janssen and Ethicon subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson.

In other parts of the reorganization:

Lilly’s Emerging Markets business will combine with Europe to form Lilly International, which will have commercial responsibility for the company’s human pharmaceutical products in those markets. Lilly International will be led by Alfonso Zuluete, who has led the Emerging Markets business for the last three years.

 Lilly’s Diabetes, Oncology and Biomedicines human pharmaceutical therapeutic business areas will assume commercial responsibility for their productions in China, in addition to the U.S., Japanese and Canadian markets, where they already operate.

Lilly shares were up 56 cents at midday Thursday, to $75.28 each.

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