Analysts press Lilly chief for new strategy

Who'd like to trade places with Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter (photo)? Probably not many, not this week. First, the FDA put off approval of Bydureon, the once-weekly version of Byetta upon which Lilly has pinned so much hope. Then the company posted Street-beating earnings for the third quarter, but sales fell short, and Lechleiter got a grilling from analysts during his quarterly call yesterday.

How, analysts want to know, is Lilly going to make up for the steepest patent cliff in the industry, particularly now that Bydureon won't see the light of day until 2012? They pressed Lechleiter on his strategy, with Sanford Bernstein's Tim Anderson suggesting that it might be time for a new one. 

Nope, Lechleiter maintained, at least during the earnings call. He and Lilly will stick to the one-small-to-medium-deal-at-a-time approach, aiming to add sales to the top line and drug candidates to the pipeline in piecemeal fashion, rather than with a big, whopping merger. "We're not interested in large-scale combinations," he said. He did hint, however, that a new round of cost cuts could be in the offing; Lilly announced a restructuring last year that includes 5,500 job cuts.

But Lilly-watchers are skeptical. "[T]he pressure on Lilly to either do a deal and/or partner some of its pipeline products and reduce its cost structure likely will intensify, writes Seamus Fernandez of Leerink Swann, as quoted by Pharmalot.

Fernandez tells Bloomberg that buying Bydureon partner Amylin Pharmaceuticals could make sense. Credit Suisse's Catherine Arnold also thinks taking a stake in Amylin could be a good move. But it was Les Funtleyder of Miller Tabak who summed up analyst and investor sentiment perfectly: "Lilly needs to be more aggressive in its actions whatever they are."

- see the Pharmalot post
- get more from the Indianapolis Star
- read Bloomberg's take
- check out the Wall Street Journal piece
- find the Minyanville analysis