The news from Eli Lilly is not good – they’re laying off 485 people, according to filings with the state, and it appears to be completely a result of their latest Alzheimer’s clinical failures. The positions are largely in the company’s sales and marketing area. According to that article from FiercePharma, the company had been staffing up to get ready to sell solanezumab, but now that no one’s going to be selling it to anyone, well. . .
The biggest thing that they have going in Alzheimer’s now is the collaboration with AstraZeneca on a beta-secretase inhibitor, AZD3293. That trial is ongoing, and is set to wind up in 2019 (I’m not sure if there’s an interim evaluation built in before then). They show another BACE inhibitor in Phase II, and three more antibody programs in Phase I. The company made a very large commitment years ago to go after Alzheimer’s, and has been talking up their chances for success year after year.
And not just in Alzheimer’s. Some readers may recall the (now former) CEO, John Lechleiter, saying in 2010 that the company was going to be producing two drugs a year starting in 2013. That year, they had no approvals. In 2014, they got dulaglutide and ramucirumab (via the Imclone purchase). In 2015, they got approval for necitumumab. And last year, they got ixekizumab and olaratumab. Five approvals instead of eight so far, which is a bit more like the reality we all know – what’s interesting, though, is that there’s not a single small molecule among them. As the names indicate, they’re all antibodies.
The last time Lilly got a new small molecule on the market was in 2009 (Effient/prasugrel). Before that, there was Evista (raloxifene) in 2007, and Cymbalta (duloxetine) in 2004. But at that point, we’re back into the territory where the patents are already expired or expiring (as with both of those). Effient itself is starting to expire later this year, although that’s being fought out in court, as is customary. So if you’ve been thinking of Lilly as a traditional small-molecule drug company, you might have to adjust your setting a bit, because biologics are and will be paying most of the bills over there. Baricitinib looks to be the company’s only patent-protected small molecule drug by the end of the year.
That’s where the whole industry has been going for some years now, though. I don’t have the figures for 2016, but in 2015, 7 out of the top 8 pharma products (by sales) were biologics. A lot of us probably need to adjust our settings a bit in light of figures like that. . .