Eli Lilly is committed to spending what it takes to come up with innovative drugs over the long term, its chief executive said, even though the company's earnings are expected to tumble over the next three years.
"As a company that is focused on innovation and seeking new treatments and cures, it's important that we maintain a steady approach and a consistent approach in investing in R&D, and I'm confident it will pay off," CEO John Lechleiter told Reuters.
The CEO expressed surprise that other large drugmakers have recently taken hatchets to their research budgets in order to boost short-term profit for shareholders. "I never thought I'd live to see this, but investors are actually thinking to cut R&D—that's the hot topic of the day," he said. "This is kind of nuts, but this is what's being talked about."
Lechleiter, who began as a company chemist 32 years ago, can be expected to defend its research spending when the drugmaker meets with analysts and investors. They will want to hear how profitability will be brought back on track as a handful of Lilly's biggest drugs face competition from cheaper generics.
"Ultimately, what will make a difference for Lilly shareholders is our ability to launch valuable new medicines that will enable us to replace and grow our revenue base as we come out of these patent expirations," Lechleiter said.
Lilly in April said its first-quarter global sales rose 6% to $5.84 billion, fueled by overseas sales of its prescription medicines. But it predicted an earnings decline for the full-year of 9% to 12%, mindful that the company's $5 billion-a-year Zyprexa schizophrenia drug will be battered by cheaper generics beginning in October.
Although the company has failed to develop many big sellers in recent years, Lechleiter was confident that many of the company’s 70 drugs now in human trials will succeed, restore earnings and prove Lilly's continuing research prowess.