Eli Lilly CEO says open to smaller acquisitions -paper

* Buys could be in biotechnology, diagnostics, animal health

* Late-stage pipeline set to explode

ZURICH, July 3 (Reuters) - Eli Lilly LLY.N is open to acquiring more smaller companies, similar to its acquisition of Imclone two years ago, the drugmaker's chief executive was quoted as saying by Swiss newspaper Finanz und Wirtschaft on Saturday.

“We could imagine going for further smaller buys ... in related market areas such as biotechnology, diagnostics or in animal health,” John Lechleiter said in an interview with the newspaper, echoing comments he made last month. [ID:nN09164641]

Lechleiter also said at that time that the company was not interested in matching the big mergers of its rivals.

Analysts have raised concerns about Lilly’s future as it faces patent expirations for some of its biggest-selling products, including the $5 billion sales a year schizophrenia drug Zyprexa late next year, and its cancer treatment Gemzar, which generated nearly $1.4 billion in sales in 2009, late this year.

But Lechleiter said in the interview the group’s late-phase pipeline was set to explode as it has 68 molecules in clinical trials.

“Of course not all of our product candidates will be successful, but I am convinced that we will compensate the patent expirations and will continue to grow after this period,” he said. (Reporting by Katie Reid; Editing by Susan Fenton)