How to create value for patients through innovation

Medicine rations are given to refugees at the Kobe camp in Ethiopia. Innovations in medicine help the prevention or treatment of diseases faster and more effective. Photo by: J. Ose / UNICEF Ethiopia / CC BY-NC-ND 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted by Abigail Jones, founding partner of Acumen Public Affairs, in conversation with Dr. John Lechleiter, CEO of Eli Lilly & Co. and president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, a #HealthyMeans campaign partner.

What are the vital components of biopharmaceutical innovation and the conditions needed to create value in the form of new medicines for patients wherever they live in the world?

Dr. John Lechleiter, chairman, president and CEO of Eli Lilly & Co. and president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations gave his thoughts in an exclusive interview with Abigail Jones, founding partner of Acumen Public Affairs.

Addressing some of the obstacles faced within the industry, Lechleiter stressed the need for persistence, building strong networks across and between sectors in order to foster a sustainable innovation ecosystem that benefits both the industry and — most importantly — the end-user patients. Here are some highlights from their conversation:

What are the challenges in discovering and developing groundbreaking drugs?

Biopharmaceutical innovation is a very complex and often very difficult process that involves engaging talented people toward a worthwhile goal — in our case, the discovery of new medicines. It is usually the result of painstaking work carried out over many years. There is sometimes an element of serendipity, but mostly it’s persistence. It also involves incorporating the latest knowledge and building a team of people who can work effectively together through a very complex process that starts with biological targeting and goes all the way to the medicine being dispensed in a pharmacy.

How is the way pharmaceutical companies undertake innovation changing?

Innovation in the pharmaceutical industry is a very networked activity. Increasingly, scientists in our company are working with academic researchers, with government researchers, as well as with individuals in nonprofit organizations who share our interests in helping to prevent or treat disease. So, the importance of partnerships and building strong networks among people — who may represent very different constituencies or come from very different backgrounds — is, I believe, going to be very essential for the discovery of medicines in the 21st century.

In what way is this networked activity relevant in a global health context?

It is highly relevant. A great example is how we are currently engaged in tuberculosis.

Over 10 years ago Lilly announced the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership to address the global rise in multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Our work began focused on two older Lilly medicines that were suddenly shown to be useful to treat this disease. However, to realize the full promise for patients that these medicines offered, we ended up partnering with several other organizations to ensure that enough of the medicines were manufactured according to the highest international standards, that they were administered by TB-trained health care professionals and that the individuals living in “MDR-TB hotspots” around the world understood what TB was and how one goes about treating it.

This is a great example where we had the medicine in hand, but to realize its full value in addressing a particular global health need, we partnered with individuals representing the full value chain all the way to the patient.

What is an innovation ecosystem?

We use the term “innovation ecosystem” to describe the environment that is necessary for scientific and medical innovation to come about in the first place, but moreover for it to be sustainable. Certainly, it requires investments in research, capable scientists and physicians, and a target — an idea. Beyond that, however, it requires policies that enable us to have the confidence that the substantial investments in research to begin with stand a chance of paying off for the inventor and, ultimately, for the patient.

These include intellectual property protection rules and regulatory systems that are straightforward, fair and transparent. Ultimately, this includes recognition of value on the part of the people who benefit from these medicines, so that the time and the costs involved in bringing them to patients are in some way rewarded.

The benefits of an innovation ecosystem for industry are clear but how does it relate to others?

The real value of innovative medicines is benefits for people. Innovative medicines make life better by preventing or treating disease. At some level, we are all going to be patients. I learned this firsthand last year when I had a major heart surgery. During my recovery, you can bet that I began to understand the value of medicines at a deeply personal and entirely different level than the one I had carried in my head for these 35 years that I have been in the industry.

What we do in the pharmaceutical industry makes a difference for people all over the world. It is our intention that everyone ultimately benefits from the discoveries in our laboratories, and that together we address some of the most pressing health issues that we face around the world.

Want to learn more? Check out the Healthy Means campaign site and tweet us using #HealthyMeans.

Healthy Means is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Concern Worldwide, Gavi, GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund to showcase new ideas and ways we can work together to expand health care and live better lives.

About the author

  • John Lechleiter

    John Lechleiter is the president and CEO of Eli Lilly and Company. He became chairman of the board of directors in 2009. John joined Lilly in 1979 as a senior organic chemist in process research and development, and he later held roles in project management, regulatory affairs, product development, and pharma operations. He serves as president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, among others.