Eli Lilly’s chief executive John Lechleiter has told President Obama and other US policymakers that plans to reform healthcare must take the need for innovation into account, rather than just focusing on cost-cutting.

Speaking to the US Chamber of Commerce, Mr Lechleiter said that federal policymakers' attention “to access, quality and costs in health reform should also include a focus on innovation” or the results could include "unintended side-effects." He added that “encouraging innovation needs to be the purpose of US healthcare reform, not its victim," saying that “it’s innovation that explains why we are the healthiest, longest-lived and wealthiest human beings ever to occupy the planet."

Mr Lechleiter also noted that the pharmaceutical industry is "in the midst of a wave of defensive consolidations that will leave the world with even fewer entities capable of taking an idea – a discovery – and turning it into a medicine approved for patients." He added that half of the smaller biotech firms in the USA “have less than a year of [operating] cash remaining, and a third are down to their last six months" and new drug approvals have dropped sharply relative to the past 30 years.

He added that “when it comes to sustaining innovation, the burden remains on us – as it should. We're not asking for a handout or a bailout”. Instead, “businesses that live or die by health care innovation in the USA ask only that we be allowed to continue doing just that – proving the value of what we've developed or failing in the marketplace”.

Mr Lechleiter went on to say that “innovation would remain reasonably secure if universal access were achieved through tax credits and government subsidies that allow patients to choose from a variety of private health-financing options." He also said that "doctors and patients need to retain the ability to choose from all of the available alternatives," and this would decline “considerably if the US government continues to expand its role as a health insurer”.

The Lilly chief concluded by backing proposals for a 14-year data protection period for biologic drugs.