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Innovation is being stifled - Lilly chief executive

Published on 10/02/11 at 02:48pm

Supporting medical innovation should be a fundamental requirement of healthcare reforms, but current public policies are failing to do this, according to Lilly’s chief executive.

John Lechleiter told the Economist’s 2011 Pharma Summit today that the industry had to keep proving the worth of its new discoveries as it seeks to tackle potentially devastating diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's.

“Encouraging medical innovation needs to be a key purpose of healthcare reforms in both the US and the UK. We must continually make the case for innovation through our words, but more importantly, through our actions and the value we bring to patients through innovative medicines,” he said.

He also took aim at pharma’s own research and development, saying it was also imperative this should change to in order to secure the future of the research-based pharma industry.

“Our industry is taking too long, we’re spending too much, and we’re producing far too little,” he told the London audience.

At the 2011 Pharma Summit Lechleiter stressed that regulations to support an environment of innovation were crucial, and pointed out that the pressure on healthcare systems around the world meant innovative reform should be promoted rather than penalised.

Lechleiter said the case for biopharmaceutical research and new medications is compelling, noting that treatments for diseases that remain unconquered will most likely come from laboratories of biopharmaceutical companies and even diseases with existing treatments, like diabetes, require better solutions.

“Ironically, the crisis in our innovation model comes at a time when we have vastly more scientific knowledge and data than ever before,” Lechleiter said. “But unless we change the way we do research, we won’t translate this knowledge into advances for patients. In the face of diminishing results, we can’t simply perform the same old rituals and hope for a different outcome.”

Lilly’s chief executive also stressed the need for research-based pharmaceutical companies to be more networked, global, and entrepreneurial to bring innovative medicines to patients faster and at lower costs.

“Even as we rebuild our R&D engine, we must build an environment where pharmaceutical innovation can thrive,” he said.

Biopharmaceutical research, Lechleiter added, has also preserved jobs in the UK and other developed countries.

In the UK there are 72,000 direct jobs in the biopharmaceutical sector and 200,000 indirect jobs. At £12 million pounds per day, the biopharmaceutical industry invests more in R&D than any other sector in the UK, Lechleiter stressed.

He told the audience that equally important have been the medical advances: in the UK alone, average life expectancy increased by 30 years from 1901 to 1999.

Brett Wells

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