Eli Lilly’s chief executive John Lechleiter has claimed that innovation holds the key to solving one of healthcare's “thorniest dilemmas”, namely improving quality and access to drugs while controlling costs.

Speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce in Frankfurt, Germany, Dr Lechleiter called on societies to rethink healthcare reform “with two shifts in thinking”, the first involving a switch from “an emphasis on cost to an understanding of value”. Focusing on price, he added, “can have the unintended effect of increasing healthcare spending over time”.

He noted that antiretrovirals have cut the costs for treating HIV/AIDS by 16% in the USA, while the use of statins to prevent or delay heart disease have reduced the impact of spending on surgeries and hospitalisations. Dr Lechleiter added that treatments for “the pandemic of diabetes” and better drugs for Alzheimer's disease can have “dramatic positive impacts not only on the quality human life, but also on the capacity of our health care systems and the costs they incur”.

The second shift involves a move away from ‘one-size-fits-all’ medicines to tailored therapeutics which should also “reduce the heavy costs associated with non-responders”. The Lilly boss also highlighted the economic benefits of pharmaceutical research, which in Germany currently provides more than 100,000 jobs, generates exports surpassing 40 billion euros, and accounts for more than 10% of all R&D investments in the country.

Dr Lechleiter also weighed in on controversial proposals in Germany calling for mandatory negotiations between pharmaceutical companies and the country's insurers on price. He warned that mandatory contracting that focused narrowly on cost and rebates “will stunt the development of innovative new medicines”.

He went on to note that while prescription pharmaceuticals' access to the German market is better than in most European countries, market penetration of innovative products five years after introduction in the former. Dr Lechleiter concluded by saying that Lilly would “continue to advocate for policies that will enable medical innovation to flourish”.

He said that “innovation is not a panacea for the challenges facing our health care systems, but it is hard to see any way out of the current crisis – and I don't think that's too strong a word - without innovation”.