Hyderabad: US drug maker Eli Lilly and Co., which recently tied up with Lupin Ltd to market its insulin products in India, is looking for partnerships with more Indian companies on both commercial and research and development (R&D) fronts, said Aaron L. Schacht, executive director and chief operating officer, global external research and development, Lilly Research Laboratories, a division of the company. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What is Eli Lilly’s strategy for India?
Lilly’s primary strategy is partnering, so we are always looking for opportunities to enhance our commercial capabilities, especially in emerging markets. India is an area that is important to us. We (have) got a specific strategy to grow our base in India and we are executing that strategy that includes partnering wherever it makes sense.
We have just announced a deal with Lupin on the commercial side; we have different R&D arrangements. We had partnerships with Piramal (Healthcare Ltd), Suven Life Sciences (Ltd), and we had a joint venture with Jubilant Organosys (Ltd). We had a partnership with Glenmark (Pharmaceuticals Ltd); that is concluded. We partner probably more on the R&D side with Indian companies than the commercial side today.
Do you see any potential molecule where Eli Lilly can partner with an Indian company to develop a drug? What will be your criteria for investment?
It’s hard to point to anything specific. We were engaged in risk-share opportunities earlier. I think there is simple criteria, there is compelling science—the partner brings in something we don’t have to the equation. What we bring, what they bring will complement each other to actually increase the likelihood of success.
What is you view on drug discovery in India?
I think it’s moved from a just follower model, where Indian companies will mitigate the risk by pursuing their popular drug targets that have been proven by Big Pharma and relevant to the Big Pharma... I think we are now beginning to see more innovative approaches to look at the fundamentals of biology and devise new hypotheses, and those hypotheses are unique to some of the Indian players... I think (we see) some pioneering in the biology side that we haven’t seen before. Is it happening on the same scale? No, but it’s beginning to happen.
What is your view on the availability of risk capital in India? Eli Lilly launched a venture capital (VC) fund to invest in companies. Are you willing to look at Indian companies to invest?
I would say the venture capital industry is not as mature and diversified (in India) as it is in other parts of the world. It is available; there were great success stories that had been VC-funded.
There are 70 compounds in our portfolio for clinical development, of which only seven compounds will make it to the market. We plan to launch at least two molecules every year—we need a much large pipeline to do that. We keep on looking for opportunities outside.
We don’t geographically bind our strategy in the sense that these fund ideas that we are pursuing are ones that can play globally, and if there is a good opportunity to invest in India, you know the partners that we work with will invest... Does this mean it will happen? I don’t know.
What kind of therapeutic areas are you present in?
If you look at Lilly globally, our strength areas are the central nervous system (CNS), psychiatry particularly, diabetes—probably (we have) the broadest portfolio of diabetes (drugs)... Oncology is an area we have really grown more recently, and we are moving into areas like inflammation pretty aggressively, with some good opportunities in our pipeline.