“We will venture into newer therapy areas, expect to launch an innovative product in 2021”

Luca Visini, Managing Director, Eli Lilly & Company India shares his views on a variety of questions related to the company's operations in an exclusive interaction

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In an interview with BioVoice, Luca Visini, Managing Director, Eli Lilly India shared his views on the key learnings during the COVID-19 pandemic besides outlining the company’s current and future activities in the country. Read the exclusive details:

BV LogoPlease tell us about the key initiatives undertaken by Eli Lilly in India and globally during the last two years?
Lilly has been a leader in diabetes management since 1923 when we introduced the first commercially available insulin. This year, we celebrate the 100th year of insulin discovery. Since then, we have been innovating to find therapies and solutions that address the daily challenges faced by patients living with diabetes.
As a testament to our continued commitment to help people living with diabetes, Lilly is expanding its partnership with Life for a Child (LFAC) to reach young people in more than 60 countries, including India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Bolivia. Since 2009, Lilly has donated 2.4 million vials of insulin to LFAC, which provides access to care, education, and lifesaving medicines and supplies to children and young people with type 1 diabetes in developing countries.
Over the past few years, we have broadened the accessibility of all our insulins in our endeavor to lessen the burden of diabetes in India. Through our strategic partnerships with Cipla and Lupin for the marketing and distribution of our diabetes medicines, we were able to expand access to healthcare practitioners and patients.
While we are one of the leading companies in the diabetes segment, we have also taken on the challenge of fighting some of the world’s most debilitating healthcare conditions by providing best-in-class innovative medicines in therapy areas such as Oncology and Immunology. We have ensured that along with these products, we also put in place high-quality patient education and support programs.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it serious challenges, but at Lilly we decided to look at them as opportunities to keep growing, learning, and evolving. As we started working from home, we explored numerous digital channels to connect with our customers and continue to deliver on our purpose. We witnessed a remarkable increase of 280% in the number of digital touchpoints as compared to 2019.  As we shifted to working in the digital environment, we saw an increase in digital peer-to-peer interactions by 260%. Our customers felt engaged and appreciated Lilly’s commitment to helping people living with chronic conditions as well as our strong approach towards safety.
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What were the key learnings for the company during the Covid-19 pandemic and measures taken to cope with its negative impact?
COVID-19 pushed us into becoming more resilient and responsive. Across the pharma industry, we saw how organizations shifted efficiently to a work-from-home and digitized setting, ensuring continuity in running regular business programs. For six months, all Lilly employees, including medical representatives, worked from home and that did not stop us from innovating and caring for patients. For instance, in 2020, Lilly launched two new products, one for diabetes and one in the oncology space, using only digital channels.
Safety was of the utmost importance: safety of our employees as well as safety of health care providers. As an organization, in addition to ensuring that we made our employees feel safe in their jobs, we worked on helping them balance their work and personal commitments. We honored all job offers and focused on our employees’ physical and psychological well-being in this shift to working from home. Some of our initiatives include salary advancements, ‘Voluntary Friday’ leaves, ergo support, and interventions through which employees could seek guidance for their well-being. We also empowered our employees through our ‘We are NOT ALONE! (WANA)’ campaign to manage both work and personal life expectations.
Finally, as a global healthcare company, we succeeded in maintaining a steady supply of our medicines and also took on additional responsibility of developing medicines for COVID-19. We continued to work with key stakeholders, the health care providers, to make medicines available for the people who needed them.
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What are the key factors that would drive the growth of Lilly in the Indian market during the next few years? 
Lilly’s purpose is to unite caring with discovery to create medicines that make life better for people around the world. In India, our focus is to increase our ability to reach people with unmet needs by sharing scientific data with health care providers on new medicines/indications in therapy areas. This will happen thanks to new launches for medicines/indications in these areas. We will also leverage our growing ability to use all channels available: digital and traditional.
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Going forward, what are the disease areas that you intend to target?
At Lilly, we value innovation. The medicines we make are innovative and life-changing. We are currently looking at venturing into newer therapy areas with another innovative product that we expect to launch in 2021. In addition to this, we will also continue to get label updates for new indications on our oncology products.
As one of the leading companies in the diabetes space in the Indian market, our focus also remains on bringing innovative products to this segment by 2022-23.
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What are the company’s major plans in the coming year, be it technology adoption or digitization? 
We have broadened the digital channels we use and have come up with different formats of communication both internally and externally. In 2021, we expect to see a continuation of the digital trend that started in 2020 and for it to become an integral part of healthcare. Face-to-face and digital interactions will coexist and we will continue to work with a hybrid model, amalgamating digital and face-to-face channels.
Keeping employees’ safety in mind, we will also continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 daily and accordingly make strategic decisions for employees who are physically visiting their customers to carry out their work assignments.
Our commitment is to ensure that integrity remains one of our foundational behaviors.
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What are the key trends in the diabetes segment? Any innovative solutions that are most awaited in the next few years?
India continues to be a country where the burden of diabetes is increasing rapidly. In India, approximately 77 million people were living with diabetes in 2019. Given the current trends, it is projected that India will have the highest number of patients by 2045. It is also estimated that almost half of these patients could remain undiagnosed. We continue to address this increasing burden through our portfolio of insulins as well as the innovative therapies that we have brought to the market.
To address inequity in access to quality diabetes care for many children and young adults around the world, Eli Lilly and Company (NYSE: LLY) and Life for a Child (LFAC) are expanding their long-term partnership and shared mission to provide free immediate care as well as build sustainable diabetes care models for vulnerable populations. Lilly India will play an integral role in bringing this strategic partnership to India. The expansion of the Life for a Child program is part of Lilly’s social impact efforts and supports Lilly 30×30, the company’s goal to improve access to quality health care for 30 million people living in settings with limited resources, each year, by 2030.
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How did the company perform financially in the current fiscal year (Indian context)? What are your expectations during FY 2021-22?
We have performed well across the globe during the pandemic and has registered a growth of 10% from the previous financial year.  In the coming year, we expect to see continued double-digit growth.
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How many investments is the company looking at making towards expansion into new territories?
Lilly continues to ensure it focuses on investing in R&D. We have R&D facilities in 8 countries, and we conduct clinical research in more than 55 countries. We invest approximately 25.1% of our sales in R&D,– which is above the industry average. We spend $5595 million a year (Approx. INR 405,000 Cr.) on R&D and have over 7800 of our global employees – that is about 23% of our workforce – engaged in research.
Our investment continues to be focused on driving innovation and bringing best-in-class products to the market. We also make sure via our strategic partnerships in India that we continue to expand into new territories, and this is a strategy we will continue to explore to make our products accessible to patients who need them.