The end of an era is looming at Eli Lilly after the firm announced that chief executive Sidney Taurel is to retire from the post at the end of March.

He will be replaced by John Lechleiter, currently president and chief operating officer of the firm. He said that he is “grateful to have spent nearly 37 years with this great company” but 2008 “is the right time for me to retire for a number of reasons”.

One of those is the shape he believes he is leaving the company in, as it is “operationally very sound and positioned for continued success”. He also noted that Mr Lechleiter “has been preparing for his new role as my successor for several years”, and 2008 is “the right time for him to assume his place as the leader of the company”.

Mr Taurel added that the new man’s “decisive leadership, his personal style and his deep experiences across the entire value chain of our business uniquely qualify him to step in to this role”. He went on to say that Mr Lechleiter “is well-respected across the industry, he inspires Lilly employees and he embodies the company's core values”.

The incoming CEO said that he is excited by the opportunity to lead Lilly, “particularly during a time of profound challenge and unprecedented opportunity”. Those challenges include dealing with the patent expiries looming over the schizophrenia drug Zyprexa (olanzapine) and keeping the pipeline well-stocked.

Earlier this month Lilly told investors between 2008 and 2011, the firm hopes to launch up to six molecules and by the end of 2011, its Phase III pipeline should be re-stocked with at least 10 new promising molecules.