Despite setbacks, top Lilly researcher bullish on pipeline's momentum

April 28, 2017

Despite two major pipeline setbacks in recent months, Eli Lilly and Co. is still poised to deliver 10 new medicines in five years, the company’s top researcher said Friday.

“We are clearly on track to deliver a number of new medicines,” Jan Lundberg, president of Lilly Research Laboratories, said in an interview following IBJ’s Life Sciences Power Breakfast at the Marriott indianapolis. “In five years’ times, I think we have a great opportunity to deliver 10, which is unheard of in Lilly’s history and probably in the pharmaceutical industry.”

Lundberg’s optimistic view comes as the Indianapolis drugmaker is trying to reassure Wall Street that its pipeline is on track to deliver, despite two big disappointments. Shares are down 5 percent since April 13, and traded for $81.88 at midday Friday.

It was unclear what time frame Lundberg was referring to. Last year, then-CEO John Lechleiter said Lilly was on track to deliver 20 new medicines in the decade between 2014 and 2023. Lechleiter retired in December and was succeeded by David Ricks.

In November, the company scrapped solanezumab, a highly touted drug for treating Alzheimer’s disease, after a decade of expensive development, saying it didn’t work as expected. Two weeks ago, the FDA rejected Lilly’s much-anticipated pill for the immune disorder rheumatoid arthritis, saying it needed substantially more information about the drug's safety and the best doses.

The drug, called baricitinib, was expected to generate more than $2 billion a year in sales, according to several Wall Street analysts.

Despite the setbacks, Lilly has launched at least five new medicines since 2014 for cancer, diabetes and psoriasis. Its first-quarter profit this year climbed 18 percent after one-time items, a rise fueled by brisk sales of new products that help make up for the slowing sales of older products for depression, schizophrenia and diabetes. But it revised its full-year earnings per share down by about a dime.

Lilly said it disagrees with FDA's conclusions on baricitinib but will work with the agency on a plan to eventually get the drug approved for U.S. patients. It has already won approval from European regulators.

“We are very confident about the benefit-risk of baricitinib for rheumatoid arthritis and potentially a number of other indications we are currently studying,” Lundberg said. “We’ll come back when we’ve had additional discussions with the FDA and give a further message about the way forward.”

Lilly is doing final development on drugs across numerous disease areas, from diabetes to cancer, he said.

“After these 10 we have a number of agents already with clinical validation,” Lundberg said, “so I see at least five of them in the next three or four years becoming highly likely if we can get final Phase 3 trials [completed] in the way we anticipate.”


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