Lilly's Lechleiter returns to CEO suite after surgery

Eli Lilly ($LLY) CEO John Lechleiter is back on the job. Two months ago, Lechleiter bowed out for surgery on a dilated aorta, handing over the reins to CFO Derica Rice. Now, the company says he has the go-ahead to get back to his desk.

"Lechleiter's surgery and recovery were successful, and he has been cleared by his personal physician and the company's health services physician to return to full-time work," the company said in a statement.

Lechleiter said his surgery and care gave him "a new perspective on health and wellness and the critical importance of new medicines," and that he's returning to Lilly "with renewed energy and enthusiasm."

He'll need it to continue tackling Lilly's patent-cliff shortfalls. Cymbalta, the antidepressant that has helped the company ameliorate generic erosion, loses exclusivity later this year, and most of its recent R&D news hasn't been good. Late-stage drugs for Alzheimer's disease and rheumatoid arthritis fell short in key trials, and the company scrapped a schizophrenia program.

But a diabetes candidate scored some impressive results in studies presented at the recent American Diabetes Association meeting, raising sales expectations. And while Lilly awaits more positive developments, Lechleiter has been cutting jobs to minimize the pain. The company has boosted sales of some existing drugs, including its slow-to-start bloodthinner Effient, in spite of competition from newly generic Plavix.

Rice served as acting chief executive while Lechleiter was out, and Ellen R. Marram, the board's lead independent director, stepped in as acting chairperson. Both of them will resume their previous roles, the company said.

- read the statement from Lilly

Special Reports: 20 Highest-Paid Biopharma CEOs of 2012 - John Lechleiter | Top 10 Pharma Companies by 2012 revenues

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