On a visit to colleagues and government officials in the UK, Dr John Lechleiter, President and Chief Operating Officer of Lilly voiced concern that recent issues over pricing are short-sighted and could threaten R&D investment in the UK.

Lilly invests 20% of its profits back into R&D and amongst global pharma is rated fourth for reinvestment in research. The company has invested £200 million in upgrading its research facilities and operations in the UK. “This country is one of the last two countries in the world (with the US) where the industry has freedom over pricing. Pricing is core to the research which underpins our products here,” he said.

Dr Lechleiter stressed that whatever changes are made now, will be felt in the long term because of the length of time required for drugs to reach the market. He praised the quality of R&D in the UK, but the rise in R&D costs and drop in the number of drug approvals threatened to become a bigger issue. He did not rule out that emerging economies in China and India were becoming attractive options.

“Both the UK and US are highly respected centres of research. Intellectual property rules are respected, there is an environment of openness and transparency and a lot of support for the risks we have to take. Drugs take an average of 13 years to reach market- a long term investment- so our health technology warrants some thoughtfulness.”

Byetta launch in UK in May

The visit coincides with the launch to the salesforce of Byetta, Lilly’s new product to treat diabetes. First in class, it is indicated for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, Byetta is used after oral medication fails but before disease severity requires insulin. “Byetta works in a similar way to the human incretin hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) by stimulating insulin production only when the blood sugar is high. It also delays gastric emptying, sending satiety signals to the brain which encourages weight loss.”

Lilly is due to launch Byetta in the UK in May this year. By Becky McCall