* Sees continued growth in animal health sales
* Not likely to make push into orphan drugs
* Believes amyloid plaques best target for Alzheimer's drugs
By Bill Berkrot
NEW YORK, Feb 11 Eli Lilly and Co's
chief executive said his company had no intention of following
Pfizer's lead by spinning off or selling the company's
lucrative Elanco animal health unit.
"We're comfortable with that business and we're going to
keep it," Lilly CEO John Lechleiter said definitively on Monday
during a question and answer session at the BIO CEO & Investor
conference in New York.
Pfizer earlier this month spun off its animal health
business through an initial public offering that raised $2.2
billion, though Pfizer will control roughly 80 percent of the
new company, leading to speculation that other drugmakers would
But Lechleiter said his company was very happy with a
business that was posting industry leading growth rates.
He said livestock and pet care products now accounted for
about 10 percent of total company sales, up from 5 percent to 6
percent a few years ago, and that the percentage could become
While overall sales at Lilly declined about 7 percent in
2012, primarily due to generic competition for its once
top-selling Zyprexa schizophrenia drug, the animal health unit
saw sales jump 21 percent to $2 billion, with a 30 percent rise
in the United States.
Lechleiter also said the company had no plans to make a push
into so-called orphan drugs - medicines for serious conditions
that affect few people but command astronomical prices. Many
drugmakers have found this to be an attractive option as they
try to find ways to make up for former big sellers facing
"We're still focused on big diseases that kill the most
people," he said, mentioning cancer, heart disease, diabetes and
Lilly has a pair of high profile Alzheimer's drugs in
development. It is conducting a third late stage study of its
solanezumab at the request of U.S. health regulators after the
first two failed to meet the main goals of the trials but showed
promise in patients with a mild form of the disease. The drug
works by blocking a protein called beta amyloid that causes
toxic plaques to build up in the brain.
It also has a drug in Phase II testing from a promising
class called beta secretase, or BACE, inhibitors.
"I'm hopeful within the next 10 years, or sooner than that,
we will have something that slows progression," Lechleiter said.
While the root cause of the brain wasting, memory robbing
disease is not known, many researchers believe brain plaques are
a main culprit.
"I think the amyloid plaque hypothesis is the best shot
we've got," the CEO said.
Meanwhile Lilly has several other shots on goal in its
development pipeline. The company currently has 13 drugs in
Phase III testing - the most at any one time in its history -
and expects key data on eight of them this year. It also has 23
drugs in midstage testing.
"We've tried to make R&D (research and development) more
sustainable and not return to the cupboard is bare" that
Lechleiter said was the company's plight in 2004.