Did Lilly chief support off-label promos?

You can bet incoming Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter (photo) spat out his Cheerios when he read the New York Times Saturday. Reporting on the big trial over Zyprexa side-effects in Alaska, the paper focused on an email Lechleiter sent back in 2003 that seems to encourage the company to promote the antipsychotic off-label.

Here's how the scenario unfolded: Lechleiter went to Cincinnati to watch Lilly reps talk to doctors. When he got back, he sent some marketing suggestions to fellow execs. Namely, he said that reps who were promoting Strattera--a psych drug approved for use in kids--to pediatricians and child psychiatrists could also talk up Zyprexa. "[W]e must seize the opportunity to expand our work with Zyprexa in this same child-adolescent population," the message stated. the only catch is that Zyprexa wasn't FDA-approved for use in kids.

Lilly says that Lechleiter's email was intended to encourage reps to "respond to demand from physicians" about Zyprexa use in kids.

You'll recall that Zyprexa has proven to cause severe side effects such as weight gain and diabetes; some trials show those effects are worst in younger patients. Now the company is under criminal investigation for pushing Zyprexa for off-label uses and for downplaying its risks; it's negotiating with prosecutors on a deal to end the probe.

- read the story in the NYT

ALSO: How's this for irony: Lilly is investing hundreds of millions in its diabetes business, launching five new insulin-injection pens, awarding grants for diabetes research, targeting high-risk patients with a new marketing push, and inking new licensing deals. Report