Bleak forecast puts Eli Lilly's ambitious R&D game plan to the test

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Eli Lilly ($LLY) stepped right up to the edge of the patent cliff this morning, looked down and predicted a $3 billion drop in Zyprexa sales as cheaper generics muscle into the market. The bleak news--which you can read more about in FiercePharma--immediately  took a painful bite out of the Big Pharma's share price as Lilly CEO John Lechleiter failed to gain much excitement by touting 12 late-stage therapeutics in the pipeline, besting its goal of 10 for the end of 2011. But there's little doubt that with billions of dollars of revenue to replace, Lechleiter's unbending reliance on internal R&D efforts will be put to the test throughout this year.

As Big Pharma rivals went after some of the biggest trophies on the life sciences preserve in recent years, Lechleiter has consistently ignored pressure to jump into the M&A game, vowing that the company's big R&D budget is being well spent in pursuit of ambitious new drug programs. And the R&D team was positioned front and center this morning as Lechleiter pressed his case for better days ahead.

"First and foremost, we are replenishing and advancing our pipeline," the CEO said in a statement. "We've successfully rebuilt our mid- to late-stage pipeline to position Lilly for growth post-2014, with 12 assets now in Phase III, exceeding our goal of 10 by the end of 2011. We continue to revamp our discovery efforts to ensure a more sustainable flow of innovation for the long-term."

Certainly one of the biggest tests for R&D will come when Lilly announces Phase III results for solanezumab, its experimental therapy for Alzheimer's, in the third quarter of this year. Lilly has already experienced severe setbacks in the Alzheimer's field and any more slips in late-stage testing can only add to the considerable market pressure Lilly is under.

- here's the press release on Eli Lilly's forecast

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