Eli Lilly looking to new blood-thinner to be best seller

By early November, Eli Lilly hopes to release results of a large patient trial of prasugrel, the most important experimental drug in its pipeline. Prasugrel is a blood-thinning agent designed to prevent recurring heart attacks and strokes in people with cardiovascular disease, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

Plavix, the current leading blood thinner, generated nearly $6 billion in sales last year for its co-marketers, Sanofi-Aventis and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Lilly and its Japanese development partner, Daiichi Sankyo Co., hope their drug will steal some market share from Plavix—if it receives regulatory approval.

Lilly hopes to submit prasugrel for Food and Drug Administration approval by the end of this year. If the drug gets timely FDA approval, it could hit the market in 2008. Initially, the approved uses for prasugrel would be narrower than those for Plavix, but Lilly and Daiichi might seek additional approvals later.

One reason that Lilly is betting so much on prasugrel is that its current best seller, the antipsychotic Zyprexa, is set to lose U.S. patent protection in 2011. Zyprexa generated more than one-fourth of Lilly’s total revenue last year, or about $4.4 billion. Lilly needs another big seller on the market before much of Zyprexa’s sales are lost to cheaper, generic competition.

Lilly is trying to downplay prasugrel’s importance in their pipeline. "While it’s a very important compound in late-stage development, it’s not the only product in late-stage development," chief financial officer Derica Rice told the Journal. He said the company is developing an inhaled form of insulin for diabetics, as well as an injectable form of Zyprexa.

In the meantime, Bristol-Myers Squibb is watching as closely as Lilly at the prasugrel study results. Plavix last year accounted for approximately 18 percent of its revenue, according to the Journal.