Drug Development

Eli Lilly’s new CEO is ready to start partnering on R&D

Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter

Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter

During John Lechleiter’s rule as CEO of Eli Lilly, the company’s emphasis was always on its own internal pipeline. Lilly did a few pacts, almost solely with big players on deals that included a pricey late-stage agreement to partner with Pfizer on tanezumab for pain, but it largely stayed away from the main action.

That might be about to change.

“I wouldn’t look for a dramatic change, but maybe (expect) an acceleration of interest in partnering externally,” David Ricks told Reuters. “There are a lot of good ideas out there.”

Quick followup: No, Eli Lilly isn’t doing megamergers. That field still appears to be almost exclusively reserved for Pfizer’s Ian Read, who’s 0 for 2 in megamerger attempts.

When Lechleiter did do a deal, he often stuck with the majors. So Boehringer tied up on diabetes and he bought a BACE drug for Alzheimer’s from AstraZeneca, which has been winding down neuro. Lilly turned to Merck and AstraZeneca on cancer pacts.

David Ricks, SVP, President, Lilly Bio-medicines

David Ricks, SVP, President, Lilly Bio-medicines

Putting Lilly more squarely in the partnering game could well help a lineup of biotechs focused on the same key areas as the pharma giant. Most notably that would be cancer along with diabetes, immunological diseases, neuroscience and pain, and cardiovascular disease.

Biotechs would love to be partnered with a marquee player like Lilly, even though the R&D group has a rep for being very slow to move on occasion. It’s careful and sensitive to failure. Some new CEOs like to come in and do a long-shot pact just to show that they have an appetite for risk (like Pascal Soriot’s early tie-up with Moderna). But that hasn’t been Lilly’s style at all.

The neurosciences companies would be particularly pleased to see another potential partner like Lilly to come along. Cancer has been a deal fest for years now. Diabetes, though, is almost exclusively a big company approach, and most venture players wouldn’t touch a program facing monumental Phase III costs. Cardio is another tough field for biotechs, where the bar on safety is high.

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