Diabetes in focus as Lechleiter's Asian tour reaches China

Eli Lilly ($LLY) CEO John Lechleiter has done the rounds in Asia with a recent stop in China an occasion for a chat about the company's plans in the Middle Kingdom with China Daily.

Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter

Lechleiter told China Daily that things are looking up in China in the diabetes arena.

"We remain focused on implementing our growth plans, which include building a new insulin cartridge-filling plant in Suzhou, a major investment that is well underway, and expanding external alliances with leading Chinese companies, including Innovent, Wuxi and others," Lechleiter told the newspaper.

The Innovent deal was widened in October to include immuno-oncology bispecific antibodies for Innovent in Greater China and for the Indianapolis-based firm outside of the country. It builds on a deal reached in March to co-develop at least three experimental cancer drugs--including one from Lilly's research labs and two from Suzhou-based Innovent--that saw Lilly pay $56 million upfront.

On the biotech front as well, Lilly Asian Ventures has invested in Suzhou-based MabSpace Biosciences on work on antibodies that break the tolerance of the immune system.

Still, there was no mention on more bread-and-butter issues such as whether the once a week Type 2 diabetes treatment Trulicity would make it to China anytime soon, with sales now in Japan and India anchoring the Asian market along with the UAE for the company.

Lilly saw China pharma revenue gain 2% in the fourth quarter, lagging other multinationals such as Pfizer ($PFE) which posted 10% growth and AstraZeneca ($AZN) which gained 10% or Sanofi ($SNY) up 27%.

The sluggish earnings in China were part of an overall 12% drop in emerging market revenues in 2015, according to the Jan. 28 earnings call.

In China particularly, Chito Zulueta, president of emerging markets, the "prognosis is, we will continue to see about a 4% to 5% market growth in China, which is what we had in 2015. And that will continue perhaps in 2016."

The interview with China Daily follows reports in the Korea Herald that Lechleiter visited South Korea's Samsung Bioepis, sparking off speculation of a partnership on biosimilars.

Lechleiter brushed aside the talk, but it is worth noting a foray into the field that saw it win U.S. FDA approval for a Boehringer Ingelheim-partnered version of Sanofi's Lantus last year.

- here's the story from China Daily