Lilly CEO sees sunny future for R&D shop amid criticisms

John Lechleiter hasn't followed his peers into the mega-merger fray, believing that Eli Lilly ($LLY) can survive the loss of patents on key drugs with its internal R&D programs and via partnerships with other companies. Many industry watchers disagree with the gambit, but those critics have failed to alter the course of Lilly's CEO, who took the hot seat in an interview with Xconomy's Luke Timmerman and explained why he thinks better days are ahead for the Indianapolis-based drugmaker.

Lilly has a lot riding on its pipeline, and Lechleiter made note of some of the late-stage compounds in development such as solanezumab for Alzheimer's disease and dulaglutide for type 2 diabetes. The company has 10 compounds in late-stage trials, but it still faces some tough years ahead with the loss of patents on blockbuster drugs such as Zyprexa and Cymbalta. Xconomy reported that 5 of Lilly's drugs that will lose patent protection accounted for more than half of the company's 2010 revenue.

Lechleiter seemed optimistic about the company's R&D future. While avoiding the big buyouts like Pfizer's acquisition of Wyeth and Roche's purchase of Genentech, the CEO noted during the interview that partnerships with external groups are key to boosting productivity in R&D. He also expects the increase in knowledge of biology and improved research tools such as computational systems and imaging technologies to pave the way to new treatments.

"My own personal belief is that we are in a new era of higher research productivity," Lechleiter told Xconomy. "And that will be reflected in medicines that come out of our pipeline and other people's pipelines."

When Xconomy relayed one biotech commentator's desire for Lechleiter to call it quits, the CEO said: "I have no plans to resign. You can quote me on that."

- read parts one and two of the Xconomy interview