Lilly bets on new insulin products with $180M plant addition

Eli Lilly ($LLY) has made a huge bet on insulin to help it maneuver past patent losses for drugs like antidepressant Cymbalta which falls off this year. It has four new products in development, including one that could give Sanofi's Lantus a run for its money. To prepare for the growth it expects, Lilly has decided it might as well just double up on an insulin plant it kicked off just 5 months ago. 

Lilly today said it will kick in another $180 million on top of the $140 million investment it announced in November for a new plant in its hometown of Indianapolis. That will not only allow it to add another line for insulin-filled cartridges, but also to expand an ingredient plant in the city. 

Besides its current insulin products, from which it derives about 15% of its revenues, Lilly has a slate of diabetes products in development that are showing positive results. That includes a basal insulin analog that has been touted as a potential long-acting rival to Sanofi's ($SNY) Lantus, the $6.7 billion mega-blockbuster. Lilly took full control of development of that product after Boehringer Ingelheim in January bowed out of a partnership. Lilly is pressing full ahead and says a regulatory submission is possible next year. The potential for that drug was improved when the FDA sent Novo Nordisk ($NVO) back to the training room with its long-acting insulin Tresiba, leaving Lantus unchallenged in its class. 

"Lilly is making significant investments to support our current portfolio of diabetes medicines," Enrique Conterno, president of Lilly Diabetes, said today. "We are also continuing to search for new and better treatment options. We have one of the strongest diabetes pipelines in our history--including four molecules in late-stage development--that could help support the needs of people with diabetes."

The new plant will be Lilly's first in the U.S. to make insulin cartridges for the increasingly popular insulin pens. It now makes those in France and Italy. The extra investments will add 84,000 square feet of space and a second line to the 80,000-square-foot, single-line plant it kicked off last year. Lilly also said it will put about $40 million into expanding capacity at a nearby API plant so it will be able to increase insulin production without having the expense of a new plant. 

Lilly sales were hit hard last year after it lost patent protection on the antipsychotic Zyprexa. It loses patent protection on its insulin Humalog in a couple of months and later this year on the blockbuster antidepressant Cymbalta. That will keep pressure on the company to come through with new products. 

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Special Report: Top 15 drug patent losses for 2013