Company: Eli Lilly
Title: Chief Information Officer
Aarti Shah has spent her entire 22-year career in biopharma at Eli Lilly, but her path has been far from mundane. It has spanned nine different job titles and two continents. She has helped develop drugs, steered treatments through approval processes, worked in information sciences, biometrics and analytics, and led global teams supporting drugs from discovery through commercialization.
Born and raised in India, where she went to college and received a master’s degree in math and statistics, she moved to the U.S. to get her doctorate in statistics at University of California, Riverside. Her first job at Lilly was as lead statistician in bringing the post-menopausal osteoporosis drug Evista to market.
Her latest? Shah ascended to the C-suite as chief information officer earlier this year.
Shah is the first to admit that forging a path to the CIO executive suite was not her goal when she joined Lilly. After all, she doesn’t come to the role through a traditional information technology path.
“People have asked me about the new CIO role and say, ‘was that in your plans?’ I have to be very honest and say, ‘no it wasn’t.’ I was actually surprised when senior management came to me with the opportunity,” she said.
However, the more Shah talked to executives about why they wanted her to take the job, the more sense it made to her. She has extensive global and U.S. drug development experience, proven leadership skills, and most importantly had sustained success and credibility within Lilly. Before Shah, Lilly had two previous CIOs who came from outside the company and ended up having short tenures.
When Shah was hired, Derica Rice, EVP for global services and CFO, said via news release, “Aarti has a proven track record of building strong, flexible and sustainable organizations. She is known for her relentless focus and passion for developing people. And her deep knowledge of drug development will be vital as IT touches every aspect of our business.”
Shah said working across the company is more important in her role than ever before.
“The CIO is more and more about cross-platform partnerships. If you’re talking about commercial, you need digital marketers, information technology and business analysts to come up with the next wave of innovation,” she said. “In discovery, it’s the same thing. You need scientists, biochemists, statisticians and technology people all working together. Innovation happens at the cross section of different disciplines.”
Eli Lilly was recently highlighted by Bloomberg Intelligence as topping all of Big Pharma at growing products approved since 2010. Its new drug sales more than doubled year-over-year, with an impressive growth of 125%. However, it faces challenges, too, as Lilly has also won fewer drug approvals since 2010 than many of its peers.
Still, its promised turnaround appears to be materializing. In May, CEO John Lechleiter, who will step down later this year, predicted 20 new launches by 2023, which would make the coming period the most prolific for new drugs since the company was founded.
Shah is looking forward to the challenges and the opportunities, particularly new ways to use IT that are particular to the pharma business--and are crucial now, as drugmakers look for new ways to market their products and spread into services.
“I’m still in learning mode, but today people talk about information technology as more than just IT. There is traditional IT in all companies in that you have to take care of your core infrastructure and run the basics in the most efficient and effective fashion.
“But then there is this other part of IT that is the innovative part. How can we go beyond the pill? All the wraparound services and information around the pill are going to be critical,.”