Lilly shake-up, the sequel: New CEO taps insiders to take reins from exiting execs

Eli Lilly
The latest management shake-up at Eli Lilly is largely aimed at boosting innovation in R&D, said CEO David Ricks.

Eli Lilly started the year with a new CEO, David Ricks, who quickly embarked on a restructuring that included a collection of new faces in top positions. Now the company is at it again, announcing today three promotions, one new member of its executive committee, and two retirements, including a top manufacturing official and R&D chief Jan Lundberg, Ph.D.

It all adds up to a team that Ricks said will "help us maintain focus as we work to bring forward new medicines in diabetes, cancer, immunology, neurodegeneration and pain and change the path of serious disease.”

The executive changeover follows last month's announcement that Lilly would cut 3,500 employees by the end of the year, aiming for $500 million in annual savings. The cuts were expected to include early retirements and shifts in manufacturing and R&D. The company had already let hundreds of sales reps go as it shifted marketing away from older meds.

Ricks came into his position at a difficult juncture: Lilly was still bogged down by the high-profile failure of its experimental Alzheimer’s drug solanezumab. It needed new blood to help shift the focus from aging hits like erectile dysfunction drug Cialis to newer, more cutting-edge medicines.

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So it was no surprise that the first management overhaul included the hiring of Novartis veteran Christi Shaw, who is now running Lilly’s Bio-Medicines unit. The R&D shake-up continues with the naming of Dan Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., the company’s senior vice president for clinical and product development, as senior vice president for science and technology and president of Lilly Research Labs. He will take over for Lundberg, who left AstraZeneca eight years ago to join Lilly.

The company’s research successes during Lundberg's tenure were ultimately overshadowed by failures. Despite some key FDA approvals, including diabetes drug Trulicity and cancer treatment Cyramza, the solanezumab debacle raised doubts about whether Lilly poured too much of its resources into a drug that seemed doomed to fail.

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Then, in April of this year, the FDA handed Lilly a complete response letter on its rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib, which Wall Street had been counting on as a potential blockbuster. The company and its development partner, Incyte, plan to refile for approval by the end of January.

Also retiring is Maria Crowe, president of Lilly’s manufacturing operations. She will be replaced by Myles O'Neill, formerly senior vice president of global drug products for the company. And Josh Smiley, who has worked in top finance posts at Lilly for more than 20 years, is taking over as chief financial officer, replacing Derica Rice, who had previously announced he would retire at the end of this year.

Lilly also announced that its chief information officer, Aarti Shah, Ph.D., would be joining the executive committee and reporting directly to Ricks. That change marks an acknowledgement by the company of the critical role technology and analytics will play in healthcare going forward, it said. Shah was one of FiercePharma's Women in Biopharma last year.

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The new management team has a tall order: Lilly has committed to roll out 20 new medicines in the decade ending in 2023. It has made some progress toward reaching that goal, most notably with the 2016 approval of Taltz, a psoriasis drug that has been embraced in the marketplace. The company also won approval last year for Lartruvo to treat soft tissue sarcoma.

And just yesterday, it scored an FDA thumbs-up for Verzenio (abemaciclib), its treatment for HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer. Lilly’s sales task won’t be easy, however. The new medicine will face competition from Pfizer’s Ibrance and Novartis’ Kisqali. Still, analysts are predicting Verzenio will be a $1-billion-plus hit by 2023, setting yet another challenging expectation on the shoulders of Lilly’s new management team.