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The Dose

Welcome to The Dose, which tackles the business and economics inside the turbulent world of health care and life sciences in Indiana. Your host is John Russell. To contact me call 317-472-5383.

A new title for Lilly's John Lechleiter?

May 27, 2016

He’s a chemist by education and a CEO by job title.

But John C. Lechleiter, head of Eli Lilly and Co., seems to have earned a new, unofficial moniker this week: Sales Manager of the Year.

Lechleiter and his team gave a presentation to Wall Street analysts on Tuesday that seemed to hit all the right notes, judging by the reports analysts later sent to their clients.

The reports were full of exclamation marks and adjectives such as “impressive,” “durable,” “healthy” and “attractive.”

Lechleiter’s task was daunting: to convince analysts and investors that Lilly’s pipeline is chock-full of innovative treatments for diabetes, cancer, pain and other maladies.

In other words, he had to make the case that the Indianapolis drugmaker is back on track, after a tough decade of precious few launches and a lot of blockbuster products falling off the patent cliff.

Lechleiter didn’t pull his punches or lower expectations. In fact, just the opposite.

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

He told the crowd that the company is on the right track, and can launch up to 20 new products between 2014 and 2023.

Then, his R&D team spent hours walking the analysts through a dozens of experimental drugs, going into great detail on the science and technology.

Analysts hear these kinds of sales pitches week in and week out, in every industry, from automobiles to semiconductors. Corporate executives trot out their next great product with all kinds of market research and sales forecasts.

Analysts listen politely. Then they write reports full of hedging and low-key language.

But this time, the analysts seemed a lot more receptive and in the mood to buy. If Lechleiter were selling Cadillacs, he might have to call Detroit to send in another carrier full of Escalades and CTS sedans.

“We walked away impressed,” David Risinger, an analyst at Morgan Stanley & Co. wrote. He added “The company clearly has a strong culture of innovation, rising R&D productivity, and a pipeline to prove it.” The headline of his report: “Eli Lilly: Punching above its weight in R&D.”

Vamil Divan, an analyst at Credit Suisse, wrote that he left the meeting “more optimistic” about the company’s pipeline. In particular, the middle-stage and late-stage pipeline, he wrote, “remains underappreciated.”

Chris Schott, an analyst with J.P. Morgan, also saw reason for optimism. “Broadly, we see the company’s years of increased R&D investment translating into a healthy new product cycle,” he wrote.

Some analysts even used multiple exclamation marks, a rarity in the Wall Street world of spreadsheets and skepticism.

Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst at Evercore ISI, was impressed enough to use at least six exclamation marks throughout his 13-page report, including when he recounted how quickly Lilly submitted an arthritis drug called baricitinib to the Food and Drug Administration for review.

“Baricitinib LPO [last patient out of clinical trials] to submission took 3.5 months!”

On Wall Street and in pharmaceutical laboratories, time is money. And the faster Lilly can get a promising drug through clinical trials and on the market, while the patent exclusivity clock is ticking, the better.

Schoenebaum, who is a medical doctor in addition to being a stock analyst, appreciated that fact as well as anyone in the room.

The reports, were not completely gushing, of course. There were the requisite cautions about “conservative physician prescriber base” that might not want to try to a new drug, and some worrying about competing drugs that are “entrenched and may be difficult to displace.”

But Lechleiter got the crowd’s attention and put everyone in a buying mood. Now it’s just time to send in the closer and wind up the sale.
 

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