Lilly CEO: We can weather the storm

For awhile now, well-meaning pharma observers have been debating which big fix to use on Eli Lilly. Acquiring a smaller-but-still-substantial drugmaker? Being acquired by a larger Big Pharma? Analysts have tossed around ideas for buyouts in both directions.

But CEO John Lechleiter is standing firm against the idea of a megamerger. Despite the revenue crisis that's approaching as virtually every important drug in Lilly's roster goes off patent, he's convinced the company can stand alone. "We'll see our way through the storm," Lechleiter tells the New York Times in a new interview. "At a time when others say Lilly has to do a deal or Lilly has to go outside itself to solve its problems, we're resolutely focused on what we have to do inside the company."

And just what does Lilly have to do internally? Develop new drugs, of course; one of the reasons Lilly's in this fix is that it won't have a new drug on the market till 2013 at least. Lechleiter's focusing on in-house R&D, he says. Another major prong of his weather-the-storm effort is cost-cutting. You'll recall that the company launched a $1 billion, 5,500-job cutting plan last year. Then there's expanded use of existing meds, such as a chronic pain indication for Cymbalta.

Lechleiter says the company will maintain revenues at $20 billion or more even during the leanest years coming up, the NYT reports. But analysts aren't so sure. With the $4.92 billion Zyprexa going off patent next year, the $3 billion Cymbalta losing exclusivity in 2013, and generic rivals for $1.36 billion Gemzar and $609 million Strattera looming, J.P. Morgan expects revenues to shrink to $18.6 billion in 2015, and Barclays Capital predicts $18.8 billion. That's down from $23 billion. Lechleiter's optimism could come in for a challenge.

- read the NYT interview

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