The chief executive of Eli Lilly believes that the company is well-equipped to survive patent expiries on the antipsychotic Zyprexa and cancer drug Gemzar and will not be looking for a mega-merger.

Interviewed at the Reuters Health Summit in New York, John Lechleiter said that Lilly is “adequately positioned” to weather the fall in sales it will suffer once Zyprexa (olanzapine), which contributed $1.22 billion to third-quarter revenues, goes off-patent in the USA in October 2011. The chemotherapy Gemzar (gemcitabine), which saw sales decline 25% to $331.8 million in the third quarter, due to generic competition, will also suffer once protection goes in the USA in a year’s time.

However Dr Lechleiter is putting its faith in continued strong sales of the antidepressant/fibromyalgia blockbuster Cymbalta (duloxetine) and the lung cancer treatment Alimta (pemetrexed). Third-quarter sales of the former, which is also approved for anxiety and diabetic nerve pain, climbed 10% to $790.2 million, but the CEO is not concerned that Lilly will become over-reliant on the drug.

He told Reuters that "I don't think we have all our eggs in that Cymbalta basket; I'm not afraid of Cymbalta growing." He added that “it proving itself to be a valuable and versatile product," and Lilly hopes to get an approval for chronic pain.

Alimta sales are soaring, up 47% to $462 million in the third quarter, and Dr Lechleiter claimed it still has plenty of room to grow. He also has high hopes for a whole new revenue stream from the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis ((tadalafil) as a treatment for enlarged prostate.

He noted that Lilly rebounded from the 2002 patent expiration on Prozac (fluoxetine), and will thrive after Zyprexa goes generic, without resorting to mega-mergers. The company bought ImClone Systems last year for $6.5 billion, but favours deals of up to $2 billion. "We're well positioned to do those deals on the smaller end, we're not interested in large-scale combinations," he told Reuters.

Novartis confident about pipeline
Novartis Pharma’s chief executive Joe Jimenez was also interviewed
at the Reuters Health Summit and said that “as long as we have a strong pipeline and we're continuing to launch compounds, we're going to continue to grow faster than the rest of the market". He added that the Swiss firm is keen to acquire rights to new drugs – either through acquisitions or licensing deals – particularly in areas where it already has expertise, such as cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

"We have over 150 projects in clinical development and over 60 of them are new compounds. But that's still not going to stop us from going out and finding good assets – and they're out there," Mr Jimenez concluded.