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Eli Lilly Chief Says China Too Slow in Approving New Drugs

Capsules are laid out for inspection on a production line. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
Capsules are laid out for inspection on a production line. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- China takes eight years longer on average to approve drugs than other major countries and U.S. drugmakers are looking at ways to help speed things up, Eli Lilly & Co. Chief Executive Officer John Lechleiter said.

“This is a drug lag that I hope we are able to close in the coming years, by working with Chinese authorities to speed up the process of doing clinical trials in China,” Lechleiter said in an interview in Beijing yesterday. The 59-year-old executive is spending the week in China to meet government officials and business executives as chairman of the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Lilly itself plans to conduct simultaneous late-stage tests in China for products such as the experimental diabetes drug dulaglutide, according to Lechleiter. The Indianapolis-based drugmaker wants introduce more than a dozen medicines in China in the next five years, including drugs for diabetes and cancer, and seeks to keep sales there growing 25 percent as they did last year, he said in March.

Drugmakers are working to expand their offerings in China, the world’s fastest-growing pharmaceuticals market, as revenue drops elsewhere, hurt by expiring patents on blockbusters. Lilly in October said quarterly earnings had missed analyst estimates after generic competition hurt revenue from the schizophrenia treatment Zyprexa, once the company’s top-selling drug.

Lechleiter said “prospects are good” for further expansion of Lilly’s drug-manufacturing operations in China. The company opened a second plant in June this year in the eastern city of Suzhou.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Daryl Loo in Beijing at dloo7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jason Gale at j.gale@bloomberg.net

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