Eli Lilly CEO sees computational tools as key to R&D boost

Like other large drugmakers, Eli Lilly ($LLY) has sought IT solutions for efficient and cost-effective ways of doing business. Now Lilly CEO John Lechleiter (photo) says, in an interview with Xconomy published Monday, that he expects computational science to help boost R&D productivity at the company.

Lilly (which has been recognized for its use of the Amazon EC2 cloud computing service) faces the loss of patent protection on 5 blockbuster drugs that brought in $12.7 billion in sales last year, Xconomy reported. Rather than plugging the expected revenue hole with the buyout of a large competitor, the Indianapolis-based drugmaker plans to rely more heavily on its internal R&D efforts for new products than some of its industry counterparts. Industry watchers have scoffed at the no-mega-merger strategy.

It's no secret that pharma outfits haven't been able to accomplish their mission of yielding enough new products to replace the old ones. Lechleiter, a 32-year veteran of Lilly, told Xconomy that his company has already experienced an increase in R&D productivity, even though the gains on the research front haven't all translated into commercial successes yet.

When asked what has changed the productivity of Lilly's R&D group, Lechleiter said: "... the tools we have are better. Whether that's imaging technology or computational science we can apply to these things ... The tools we have on hand to exploit the growing knowledge base [are] contributing to productivity improvement." The CEO also noted partnerships with other companies and a surge in scientific understanding of disease as R&D productivity boosters.

Though not discussed in the interview, Lilly has tapped the Amazon EC2 cloud for computational analyses used in drug discovery. The company also manages a secure website that enables groups from outside the company to have Lilly evaluate their compounds. Lilly has worked on multiple fronts to foster "open innovation," which allows the company's R&D unit to access external resources and vice versa.

- read the interview here