Lilly CEO's Korean tour sparks rumors of a biosimilars deal with Samsung

Lilly CEO John Lechleiter

Eli Lilly ($LLY) CEO John Lechleiter is shaking hands around South Korea this week as part of a tour of Asia, and one stop, at the biologics-focused Samsung Bioepis, has stirred speculation that the American drugmaker might be scouting for a partnership.

As The Korea Herald reports, Lechleiter paid a visit to Samsung Bioepis' headquarters outside of Seoul on Wednesday, stopping in to speak with executives. Samsung told the newspaper that there were no formal discussions about a partnership, but noted that "working together in the future is always a possibility."

And the visit alone was enough to spark speculation that Lilly, which is yet to make a major push into biosimilars, might be weighing a move in the field. The company won FDA approval for a Boehringer Ingelheim-partnered take on Sanofi's ($SNY) blockbuster insulin Lantus last year but has otherwise stayed on the sidelines as its peers develop copycats of the world's best-selling biologic medicines.

Samsung Bioepis, formed in 2011 with help from Biogen ($BIIB), has built up a wide pipeline of biosimilars, scoring its first approval last year with the European clearance of its version of Amgen ($AMGN) and Pfizer's ($PFE) blockbuster Enbrel. The company already has a U.S. pharma partner in the form of Merck ($MRK), but a bramble of licensing deals means the American drugmaker has rights to Samsung Bioepis' products only in select territories.

Meanwhile, a host of companies are working to siphon profits from big-money biologics with knockoff programs, including Novartis ($NVS), Pfizer and Amgen. The promise of biosimilars as cheaper alternatives to expensive therapies is poised to change the landscape in biopharma, with Citigroup analysts estimating that branded biologics will lose $110 billion in sales to copycats by 2025.

- read the Herald story