Long-time Lilly CEO Lechleiter to retire in December

Eli Lilly Chairman and CEO John C. Lechleiter will retire in December after leading the drugmaker through a challenging period in which it lost U.S. patent protection for several top-selling products.

The Indianapolis company says the president of its bio-medicines business, David A. Ricks, will replace Lechleiter as CEO in January and become board chairman next June.

Lechleiter became CEO in 2008, nearly 30 years after joining the company as an organic chemist. The 62-year-old executive led the drugmaker as it lost patents protecting its all-time bestseller, the anti-psychotic Zyprexa, and the antidepressant Cymbalta. Both of those drugs generated well over $4 billion in revenue annually before their patents expired.

Lilly, known for its portfolio of cancer and diabetes treatments, responded to the patent losses by developing new drugs, cutting expenses and drawing more revenue from the insulin Humalog and from its animal health business.

Lechleiter focused on developing new drugs, as opposed to making big acquisitions, to grow the company’s business, and the new CEO will benefit from that, said Erik Gordon, an analyst and professor at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Ricks, 49, joined Lilly in 1996 and has led the company’s business operations in Canada, China and the United States. Lilly’s bio-medicines business includes the neuroscience, cardiovascular and urology treatment areas and the company’s global marketing operation.

Lechleiter’s announcement came a day after Eli Lilly and Co. reported a second-quarter profit of nearly $748 million, with earnings and revenue both beating Wall Street expectations.

Lilly shares rose 92 cents, or 1.1 per cent, to $83.01 in midday trading Wednesday. The stock had slipped nearly 3 per cent so far this year, as of Tuesday’s close.