Lilly's new development star signals strategic shift

The news Friday that Jan Lundberg--who championed AstraZeneca's R&D shift from internally-driven programs to collaborations with other pharma companies--has been named Eli Lilly's new chief of drug development carries some significant implications for the pharma giant's big R&D operations. Lundberg is moving over to Lilly at a time the pharma giant badly needs a string of new drug approvals to replace the blockbusters that will soon lose patent protection. 

Lundberg forged his reputation around a series of development deals he struck between AstraZeneca and Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb. He'll be expected to do more of the same after he moves to Lilly, which has seen its pipeline swell to 60 experimental therapies under the guidance of R&D chief Steven Paul. As the Wall Street Journal notes, though, more programs haven't translated into more respect on the Street for Lilly, as analysts ponder the fate of a number of therapies that test a new mechanism of action.

More than half of Lilly's revenue relies on drugs that lose patent protection in the next four years. And analysts have been openly fretting about Lilly's ability to find replacements for them. Lundberg was a 10-year veteran at AstraZeneca and had been a professor at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Sweden. The surprise appointment on Friday underscores the fierce competition in the marketplace for proven R&D performers.

"Advancing our pipeline to patients as quickly and as safely as possible is the biggest challenge Lilly faces in 2010 and beyond. We are confident that Dr. Lundberg will be able to deliver on this challenge," said Lilly CEO John Lechleiter in a statement.

- check out Lilly's release
- here's the story from the Wall Street Journal
- see the piece from Reuters