Can Eli Lilly Save This Drug?

A replacement for Zyprexa, pomaglumetad methionil is not. Or maybe it is. Feeling a little schizophrenic? So, too,  it seems is Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY  ) .

The pharma announced that two different doses of the drug failed to show an effect in patients with schizophrenia compared to placebo. Eli Lilly even subdivided the treatment groups in the phase 3 trial based on predefined genetic differences of the patients and couldn't see a difference compared to placebo.

Psychiatric trials sometimes have issues with placebo performing better than expecting, washing out any effect the drug has, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. The company smartly included a positive control in the trial. Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ  ) Risperdal improved the symptoms of patients more than placebo and pomaglumetad methionil.

Seems pretty clear that pomaglumetad methionil is dead. And yet Eli Lilly appears to be holding out hope for the drug. The company is continuing another phase 3 trial and expects to do an interim analysis on that trial later in the year. In the press release, Eli Lilly also highlighted a phase 2 trial testing pomaglumetad methionil in combination with atypical antipsychotics such as Risperdal, Lilly's Zyprexa, Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE: BMY  ) Abilify, and Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE  ) Geodon.

Maybe the trials aren't that expensive to continue, making them worth the gamble, however slight the chances for a positive result are. Maybe Eli Lilly feels a scientific duty to continue the trials, which as a scientist I applaud, but the company is in business to make money. Considering the current state of Eli Lilly's research and development program, frivolous spending isn't an option.

Eli Lilly lost U.S. exclusivity on Zyprexa last year, and sales of the top-selling drug fell 56% in the first quarter as a result. The pharma doesn't necessarily need a schizophrenia drug to make up for the sales, but it does need some sort of drug with blockbuster potential to shore up the revenue line.

Pomaglumetad methionil doesn't look like it'll be it. Unless those ongoing trials show it is.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer and have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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