Incoming Lilly CEO says dealmaking will be a focus

(Reuters) - Eli Lilly & Co will likely step up the pace of making deals with other drugmakers while aggressively developing new drugs on its own, the company’s newly appointed chief executive said on Wednesday.

John Lechleiter, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Eli Lilly and Company, speaks at the Reuters Health Summit in New York, November 9, 2009. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Company veteran David Ricks will become CEO on Jan. 1, after John Lechleiter, 62, retires by year-end, the Indianapolis-based drugmaker said.

Ricks, 49, has served since 2012 as president of Lilly Bio-Medicines, where he has overseen late-stage drug trials and global marketing. He has also held other leadership positions at Lilly.

The incoming CEO said Lilly will “keep the foot on the gas” in terms of innovation, and predicted his experience in his first job at Lilly, in business development from 1996 to 1998, would come into play as CEO.

“I wouldn’t look for a dramatic change, but maybe (expect) an acceleration of interest in partnering externally,” he said. “There are a lot of good ideas out there.”

Although the tempo of acquisitions and drug-development partnerships will likely increase, he said Lilly would steer clear of the kinds of mega-mergers that have hurt productivity of other drugmakers.

Many large drugmakers, when faced with generic competition for their biggest products, have tied the knot with big rivals to bolster earnings.

Pfizer Inc, for instance, merged with Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia and Wyeth between 2000 and 2009, but its laboratories failed to produce a single important medicine over that period. Lilly has remained steadfastly independent, avoiding disruptions from such deals.

Lechleiter, an organic chemist who became Lilly’s CEO in 2008, has steered the company through a painful series of patent expirations by developing new medicines such as lung cancer treatment Cyramza, and Trulicity and Jardiance for type 2 diabetes. Its drugs in development include solanezumab, for Alzheimer’s disease, and treatments for pain and headache.

After three years of tumbling sales caused by generic competition, Lilly revived earnings growth last year. It has predicted at least 5 percent average annual revenue growth through the end of the decade, thanks to its growing roster of prescription drugs.

It plans to launch 20 new drugs between 2014 and 2023.

Lechleiter joined Lilly in 1979 as a senior organic chemist and later took on roles that involved pharmaceutical product development, regulatory affairs and operations.

Shares of Lilly have risen 60 percent since Lechleiter took the helm 8 years ago, compared with an 86 percent advance for the ARCA Pharmaceutical Index of large drugmakers over the same period.

Reporting by Ransdell Pierson in New York; Additional reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Chang