Pharmaceutical R&D needs a shake-up like never before in a bid to secure a future for itself, the chief executive of Eli Lilly has urged the industry.

Speaking at The Economist Pharma Summit in London yesterday, John Lechleiter said the R&D-based pharma industry was at risk unless companies changed the way they did research while public policies had to be aligned to promote and support medical innovation.

“Our industry is taking too long, we’re spending too much, and we’re producing far too little… Ironically, the crisis in our innovation model comes at a time when we have vastly more scientific knowledge and data than ever before. But unless we change the way we do research, we won’t translate this knowledge into advances for patients. In the face of diminishing results, we can’t simply perform the same old rituals and hope for a different outcome.”

The case for research and new medications was compelling he said, but with the age of austerity upon us this isn’t enough – drugs have to make their way to patients faster and cheaper. Not only should pharma become more networked, global and entrepreneurial, it needs to be matched with regulations that support an environment of innovation.

“Even as we rebuild our R&D engine, we must build an environment where pharmaceutical innovation can thrive. As pressures on healthcare systems around the world continue to grow, we will continue to make the case that innovation is imperative and to advocate for reforms that promote innovation rather than penalise it.”

Lechleiter’s views were echoed by David Redfern, GlaxoSmithKline’s head of strategy, who was “absolutely convinced this will be the last generation of R&D spending unless a decent return is generated”.

Despite this, Redfern said he was “optimistic” that pharma will largely pull through.