January 21, 2007
My view: John C. Lechleiter
Lilly battles pandemic of diabetes
The word pandemic -- meaning a disease suffered by large numbers of people across a wide area of the globe -- is not to be used lightly. But it's appropriately applied to diabetes today. At least 20 million Americans, and tens of millions more in other countries, already suffer from this often-debilitating disease. And the numbers are growing at an alarming pace. As your neighbor here in Indianapolis, we think it's important to share how Eli Lilly and Co. is approaching this pandemic.
The battle for market share in the insulin business, which this newspaper recently reported on ("About face: Lilly pulls plug on insulin plant," Jan. 12), certainly illustrates the competitive nature of the pharmaceutical industry. But it tells you very little about the underlying strategy that Lilly pursues in fighting diabetes.
It's no exaggeration to say that Lilly's pivotal role in the early mass production of insulin during the 1920s was a defining moment in the company's history. It began the modern era of research and forged confidence in our ability to improve the lives of patients on a national and eventually global scale. It also forged a firm commitment that endures at Lilly today: to help people with diabetes.
A commitment to help patients is wholly compatible with a duty to do well for shareholders. But that's where strategy comes in.
In recent years, Lilly has heard from doctors and patients that they need new options for the treatment of diabetes and the devastating complications of the disease. Responding to those needs has required massive investments in research and development, as well as in marketing to educate doctors and patients about the role of new medicines.
In the early part of this decade, we generated the resources to make those investments in part by temporarily scaling back many of Lilly's promotion efforts for insulin products, including Humalog, our flagship insulin. Even so, Humalog remains the most-prescribed mealtime insulin in the United States and is used by millions of patients across the globe to manage their blood sugar.
Last year, we began to renew our promotional efforts in earnest. In 2007, we're reinvigorating the Humalog brand by launching three pen-style insulin delivery devices to help make the management of diabetes easier. The first of these new devices -- a pen called Memoir, which "remembers" multiple insulin doses -- will be available to patients in the next few weeks.
But people with diabetes don't care about a company's market share or brand development strategy. They care about their ability to live successfully with the disease and stay healthy. That's why we're convinced that our strategic decision to favor innovation and expand the breadth of our diabetes portfolio was the right one for patients and shareholders alike. Consider:
In 2005, together with our partner Amylin Pharmaceuticals, we launched Byetta, the first in a new class of drugs called "incretin mimetics." Byetta is a completely new option designed for patients who aren't achieving adequate blood-sugar control on oral medications but aren't ready for insulin. What's more, in clinical trials, many patients using Byetta also lost weight, which helps to create a cycle of successful diabetes management. To date, more than a half-million people with diabetes in the U.S. have used Byetta; it has the fourth-most new prescriptions of any branded drug for type 2 diabetes.
Byetta joined Cymbalta, which launched in 2004 and is the first approved therapy for the pain caused by diabetic peripheral neuropathy, on our roster of recent innovations in diabetes. Another Lilly drug, Arxxant -- being studied for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy -- was granted an approvable letter by the Food and Drug Administration last August, with a requirement for an additional study. Lilly is appealing this decision.
Our continuing commitment to diabetes includes partnerships with physicians, diabetes educators, patient groups, professional societies and others to arrest the progression and impact of diabetes across society. Late last year, for example, we announced two major gifts, including $10 million to help establish a world-class pediatric diabetes treatment and care program at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. You'll hear more about Lilly's patient-focused approach to diabetes throughout 2007.
Our commitment to research in this field is unwavering. We're standing up to the pandemic and making a difference for patients.