Lilly CEO Calls for a 'Wave of Invention' to Reduce the Toll of Diabetes

Eli Lilly and CompanyIn a speech to the Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit, John C. Lechleiter, Ph.D., chairman, president and CEO of Eli Lilly and Company (NYSE: LLY) described the "paradox of progress" against diabetes, noting that "for all our progress in treating diabetes, our ultimate goal seems as far away as ever." He called for a new "wave of invention" to combat the disease.

"Breakthroughs against diabetes are just as urgently needed today as they were a century ago," Lechleiter said, adding that current trends suggest that one in every three Americans could have type 2 diabetes by 2050, up from one in 10 Americans who live with the disease today. "As we all know, this is a health and economic time bomb," said Lechleiter, noting that diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness, kidney failure, and non-traumatic amputations, as well as a leading contributor to heart disease and stroke.

Since Lilly helped mass produce insulin for patients worldwide in the 1920s, the company has remained dedicated to fighting diabetes, maintaining the goal of offering a full range of treatment options for diverse patients in the many stages of the disease. Just yesterday, the company announced a new center for basic diabetes research in China, where an estimated 92 million people - almost 10 percent of the adult population - today are afflicted with diabetes.

Lechleiter stressed the importance of pursuing many paths of research given that diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome are complex conditions impacting a diverse group of patients. Lechleiter outlined some of the most promising developments in biopharmaceutical labs, including:

  • How researchers are looking into the genetics that underlie susceptibility to diabetes;
  • Ways researchers are improving insulin delivery through novel injection and infusion technology, and improved glucose monitoring and data integration;
  • Progress around "glucose-plus" therapies that both better control glucose levels and address related aspects of cardiovascular risk; and
  • Other advances that could help move us from managing type 2 diabetes to truly modifying the disease and improving patients' lives.

Despite these advances, more must be done. "While the potential of research has never been greater, and the need for breakthroughs more urgent, there are serious barriers to innovation," Lechleiter said. "We must find new approaches that reduce the cost and time of drug development and deliver more value to patients."

Lechleiter gave examples of how the industry is working to "reinvent invention" to address some of these barriers. He pointed to increased collaboration across the industry in precompetitive stages of research, new approaches to clinical trials that make it possible to adjust trials as they proceed in order to capture learning and lower costs, and the growing ability to tailor medicines to meet the distinct needs of individual patients.

Lechleiter warned that "all of these new approaches, all of the potential of current medical advances, are at risk without an environment that supports medical innovation." He added, "To sustain progress against diabetes, public policies - including benefit/risk assessments, reimbursement decisions, and prescribing guidelines - must enable and foster true medical innovation."

Lechleiter urged creation of a systematic and transparent regulatory approach to assessing the benefits and risks of new medicines. He noted that ongoing efforts with the FDA on the Prescription Drug User Fee Act - which is up for reauthorization in 2012 - offered an opportunity for a "real victory for innovation and for patients."

These policy objectives should be part of a larger "ecosystem" that allows innovation to flourish, according to Lechleiter. Such an ecosystem, he said, must include an "atmosphere" where innovation can thrive, adequate "nutrients" in the form of monetary investments supported by sound tax policy and protection of intellectual property, and the "seeds" of human talent in science and math--areas where America's children are currently behind the curve.

Lechleiter concluded with a call to action, saying, "We must achieve continued innovation in diabetes treatment. We must aggressively pursue the fight, to alleviate the suffering brought about by the long-term consequences of this devastating disease. And, to sustain this progress against diabetes, we must all support public policies that enable and reward medical innovation."

About Eli Lilly and Company
Lilly, a leading innovation-driven corporation, is developing a growing portfolio of pharmaceutical products by applying the latest research from its own worldwide laboratories and from collaborations with eminent scientific organizations. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind., Lilly provides answers - through medicines and information - for some of the world's most urgent medical needs. Additional information about Lilly is available at www.lilly.com.

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