Ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on President Obama's Affordable Care Act later this month, Eli Lilly's chief executive has called for reforms that enhance access to drugs while safeguarding future medical innovation.

John Lechleiter, in a keynote address at the Financial Times US Healthcare and Life Sciences Conference, said that "what's required are healthcare policies, guided by a long-term perspective, that provide access to a continuing flow of innovative medicines". He noted that drugs account for "only a fraction of health care spending – about 10% in the USA – but they can have a big impact on costs throughout the system".

Dr Lechleiter, who also is chairman of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association of America, noted that member companies have some 3,200 medicines currently in development. Because of rapidly-advancing science, the industry's pipeline is growing, with a 15% increase in company-reported projects in the clinic in just the past five years.

He went on to say that "innovation requires long-term thinking, especially in an enterprise that typically requires more than a decade to bring a new medicine to patients". Dr Lechleiter said that "we've stayed the course through challenging times in the past by following the science" and urged a similar long-term approach to healthcare policy, warning that a short-term focus on costs and budgets could imperil long-term gains from innovation.

The Lilly boss argues that "without a supportive policy environment…there is in fact no guarantee that the work of discovering and developing new medicines will go on at all." He stressed the importance of intellectual property protection, open access to health care markets and market-based pricing, "and a regulatory system that keeps pace with 21st century science".

Dr Lechleiter concluded by saying that "the good news is, time and time again, medical innovation has reset the standard for what we can expect from the health care system and from human life". Indeed, he added that "I believe we are only at the beginning of what will be known as the biomedical century".