Lilly's scientist CEO preps for 'Year Y'

What haunts Lilly CEO John Lechleiter's work anxiety dreams? Year Y and Year Z. They're the continuation of a series that began in 2001, a.k.a. Year X, when the blockbuster antidepressant Prozac went off patent. Year Y will be plagued by the loss of Zyprexa exclusivity. Year Z? Cymbalta. "It's part of our business model," Lechleiter told the Financial Times in an interview, "we have a period of time, and then these things become pumpkins."

Obviously, Lilly has experience with sudden loss of revenue. When Prozac turned into an orange gourd, it left a castle-sized hole in sales. Lechleiter believes the company can patch the holes in Years Y and Z by licensing products, buying innovative biotechs, striking edgy risk-sharing deals, and so on. Lilly will get its hands on the biologic drugs and diagnostics and other assets it needs to bridge Y and Z. No need for a castle-sized acquisition, he promises, just as he has been throughout the 2009 M&A epidemic.

"We're betting on an innovation strategy: that we will not for ever be stuck in an innovation drought," he says. "Science and our insight into human biology argue for a much stronger flow of products in the years ahead."

And unlike his counterparts at other Big Pharmas these days, Lechleiter actually does have insight into human biology. He's a research chemist. Does this science background implies an advantage for Lechleiter? Or do his rivals with their MBAs and consumer-goods experience have the upper hand in today's pharma market?

- read the FT profile

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