12:02 PM
May 31, 2018
 |  BC Innovations  |  Product R&D

Lilly’s new leaf

How Lilly’s new R&D head aims to beef up the pharma’s first-in-class cache

As Daniel Skovronsky takes the helm of Eli Lilly and Co.’s R&D business, his goal is to shake the pharma’s reputation as a fast-follower and instead advance first-in-class therapeutics with large effect sizes. To get there, he is pushing for more early stage collaborations, building biotech-like structures within R&D, and exploring new modalities synergistic with Lilly’s expertise.

Skovronsky will take over as SVP for science and technology and president of Lilly Research Laboratories on June 1, succeeding Jan Lundberg, who is retiring. Skovronsky was previously SVP for clinical and product development and joined Lilly in 2010 when the pharma acquired Avid Radiopharmaceuticals Inc.

BioCentury sat down with Skovronsky as he prepares to begin the new role, joined by Levi Garraway, one of three academic clinicians Lilly hired into senior positions in the last two years. Garraway was an associate professor in the department of medical oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and joined Lilly in September 2016 as SVP of global oncology.

Lilly’s pipeline has been dominated by next-in-class therapies. Of nine drugs launched since 2014, only one was first in class.

Skovronsky wants to change that by doing more preclinical and Phase I collaborations with biotechs and academics. The goal is to bring in new assets and modalities that complement Lilly’s existing strengths in areas such as diabetes.

Skovronsky is also transforming Lilly’s internal R&D organization. For example, he’s already moved the BD unit under the umbrella of R&D and created biotech-like organizations -- dubbed “trailblazers” -- inside target areas. The trailblazers have their own budgets and boards of directors, and are structured to give the scientists freedom to pursue novel targets, with a restrained budget to induce a sense of urgency.

Garraway sees better patient stratification as one of the primary ways Lilly can get larger effect sizes in its oncology trials. He also expects Lilly to augment its oncology pipeline with more deals like its October 2017 partnership with cancer vaccine company CureVac AG and its May acquisitions of Armo Biosciences Inc. and AurKa Pharma Inc. (see “Dealing in Cancer”).

While Lilly also is exploring new pathways in Alzheimer’s disease, it’s not abandoning its investment in the amyloid hypothesis. Despite recent setbacks to a competing BACE1 program from Merck & Co. Inc., Skovronsky thinks a better test of the amyloid hypothesis will come from Lilly’s Phase II combination trial of its BACE inhibitor LY3202626 plus anti-β-amyloid mAb LY3002813, for which data are expected in 2020.

Edited excerpts from BioCentury’s conversation with Skovronsky and Garraway follow.

BioCentury: Lilly’s pipeline has been one of next- or best-in-class compounds rather than first-in-class. Will you change that, and if so, how?

Daniel Skovronsky: Yes. Patients, prescribers and payers are demanding outcomes that are more highly differentiated than ever before, and it’s our job to deliver those kinds of breakthroughs. We think that most of those breakthroughs will come through novel biology where we have a new insight into the disease and a new mechanism. To go after those, we need to enhance our capabilities around accessing...

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