Eli Lilly's Sidney Taurel to retire, John Lechleiter to become CEO

Eli Lilly announced that CEO Sidney Taurel will retire from his position on March 31, 2008 and will be succeeded by John Lechleiter. The drugmaker specified that the board unanimously elected Lechleiter, who had served as president and COO since October 2005, to the post of CEO on Taurel's recommendation.

On Tuesday, Taurel said he has been discussing retirement plans with the board for several years, and noted that he wants to ensure that Lechleiter "has enough runway and has the chance to have some success under his belt as we face patent expirations in the next decade." Taurel will remain at Eli Lilly as chairman of the board of directors through December 31, 2008.

Commenting on the news, Les Funtleyder of Miller Tabak remarked that "Lechleiter is well thought of on the street, but he must contend with the problems that all other big pharma CEOs must deal with, relatively shallow pipelines and pressures [from insurers] to use low-cost generic alternatives." The company's antipsychotic Zyprexa, antidepressant Cymbalta, and osteoporosis product Evista, all face patent expiration by the end of 2014.

In an interview, the incoming CEO noted that Eli Lilly has 44 molecules in development, adding that "if we can bring those forward and demonstrate their value, we'll be just fine." Lechleiter also suggested that "Zyprexa will be less as a percentage of total sales than Prozac was when we lost that patent in 2001."

Earlier this month, Eli Lilly stated at an investor meeting that it plans to launch six new compounds by the end of 2011. Furthermore, the company entered into an agreement with BioMS on December 17 for an experimental late-stage multiple sclerosis drug.

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