Eli Lilly have pulled off something of a coup by appointing AstraZeneca’s head of drug discovery, Jan Lundberg, as its new research chief.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker issued a statement that Dr Lundberg, its executive vice president of discovery research had resigned “to pursue other interests outside the company…with immediate effect”. This was immediately followed by a missive saying that the Swede will succeed Steven Paul as executive vice president, science and technology, and president of Lilly Research Labs.

Dr Paul will retire on February 28, while Dr Lundberg plans to join Lilly in Indianapolis as early as January 2010, the company said, “subject to completion of the US immigration process”. Lilly chief executive John Lechleiter said that “advancing our pipeline to patients as quickly and as safely as possible is the biggest challenge” the company faces in 2010 and beyond, as it faces up to patent expiries on the antipsychotic Zyprexa (olanzapine) and cancer drug Gemzar (gemcitabine). “We are confident that Dr Lundberg will be able to deliver on this challenge," he added.

Meantime, AstraZeneca said that Christer Koehler, who heads its discovery operations for central nervous system and pain control, will replace Dr Lundberg on an interim basis, “pending the finalisation of permanent succession arrangements”.