BLOG: For Eli Lilly, China is the answer

Eli Lilly’s CEO, John C. Lechleiter, and its corporate director of state government affairs Nate Miles (right)


The other day, I was talking to one of the most powerful men from Indiana. Gov. Mitch Daniels once worked for this man’s company, and the Republicans even toyed with drafting him to run against President Obama earlier this year.

John C. Lechleiter, Eli Lilly’s CEO, was a keynote speaker for a conference I attended at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue. I have never been to Indiana, nor do I know much about the pharmaceutical industry. However, we quickly found common ground.

Lechleiter visited China last March for a month. A month, not days! He had visited some very rural parts of China, eating very exotic foods, meeting high-ranking officials.

It’s a smart move for Lilly to expand in China. China is the world’s biggest market for everything. Its speedy growth and rise to become a world power has its sacrifices though — China is getting its own share of urban diseases. Lilly has pioneered therapies since 1923, when it developed Iletin, an insulin product to fight diabetes, and is now  a leader in anti-cancer drugs and several other kinds of drugs, which are now sold in China. We might cut back on our daily expenses, but when it comes to medicine, we should think twice before doing it.

To my surprise, Lilly is no stranger to the Chinese market. The son of the founder was actually part of the company’s first business venture into China in 1926. However, nothing was done substantially until 67 years later.

There were 13 people from Lilly working in China in 1993. There are now 3,000.

Do drugs cost less in China?

Yes, Lechleiter said, because they are produced more economically in China. But the market potential is also several times bigger than in America. (end)

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