Applauding Cautious Optimism from a Big Pharma CEO

December 1st, 2011
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Recently journalists at WSJ and Xconomy interviewed John Lechleiter, Chairman, President & CEO, of Eli Lilly and Company. When I sat down to read Mr. Lechleiter’s interviews, I was prepared to get up from my desk several times to find something more interesting to do thinking the articles were to be somewhat mind-numbing. My expectations were not based on any preconceived notions about Mr. Lechleiter, but rather that I assumed the focus of the interviews would be lamenting the pharmaceutical industry’s problems. Instead I was encouraged by Lechleiter’s dedication and optimism.
It is increasingly easy to criticize big pharma: Fewer truly “new” drugs are developed. It is difficult to understand the economics behind the high costs of certain drugs. After being approved, some drugs go on to be proven ineffective or, sometimes, potentially dangerous.

Yet, while the big pharma industry appears to be lagging in productivity, underperforming from a stock price perspective and reeling from other negative indicators, Mr. Lechleiter remains realistic and – at the same time – confident.
The basis for his confidence? While Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman reported that Mr. Lechleiter stated, “… new medicines just don’t grow on trees,” Lechleiter goes on to say that he places his bet for future R&D successes on research efforts largely driven through Lilly’s own internal investment strategy. He adds to that Lilly’s strategy of working with partners around the world, which has allowed for a greater knowledge base. He also cites that advances in technology in the areas of ‘omics’ and IT have created better and faster tools to exploit pathways and to develop drugs.   The underlying cause of disease is being scrutinized, which may lead to multiple drug targets. The time spent in pre-clinical and clinical development may be reduced significantly due to innovative technologies, which may then help move targeted therapies to market.
While leading to cautious optimism, these developments may have a synergistic effect for a positive re-design of the pharmaceutical industry. There is hope that the FDA is also seeing that the lights have been turned on and we are living in a new era of real and exciting changes in how drugs will be developed.
Do you share Lechleiter’s cautious optimism? What is your take on the future of big pharma R&D and its partnering efforts with biotechs? Is there one technology that you hang your hat on to truly revolutionize drug development? Please share your thoughts with us below.

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About the Author:

I have 20 years experience in clinical research, including leading diagnostic and pharmaceutical clinical studies in disease areas ranging from cancer to infectious disease to cardiology, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. Send me an email.