If You're Going to Fail, Fail Quickly

In goes another drug into the Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY  ) trash can. The pharma is dropping development of tabalumab for rheumatoid arthritis.

It's not particularly surprising given that the drug failed a phase 3 trial in December, but it's still disappointing for a company that could really use a positive result. Tabalumab joins in the trash can Alimta for lung cancer, pomaglumetad methionil for schizophrenia, and Forteo for back pain, which all recently failed clinical trials.

The trial results released in December showed that tabalumab failed to help patients who didn't respond to methotrexate, a drug typically used early in disease progression. Based on that result, Eli Lilly decided to take an early look at its other study in patients who failed to respond to one or more tumor necrosis factor inhibitors -- AbbVie's (NYSE: ABBV  ) Humira, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) and Merck's Remicade, or Pfizer and Amgen's (NASDAQ: AMGN  ) Enbrel -- that are typically used later in the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. The interim peek at the data showed that it was futile to continue, so Lilly has decided to drop development of tabalumab in rheumatoid arthritis.

While Humira, Remicade, and Enbrel are safe from future competition from tabalumab, GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK  ) still needs to watch its back. Eli Lilly is continuing development of tabalumab as a treatment for lupus. The drug attacks the same target -- B cell activating factor, or BAFF -- as Glaxo's Benlysta, so the chance of success is higher for lupus.

Glaxo and its acquired partner Human Genome Sciences tested Benlysta on rheumatoid arthritis where it was shown to be ineffective, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that tabalumab was ineffective as well.

I'm not sure exactly what led Lilly to believe it could succeed where Benlysta had failed, perhaps it felt tabalumab was a better inhibitor and could therefore succeed. Hindsight is 20/20, but it seems likely that BAFF isn't a good target for rheumatoid arthritis. The only good decision we can say Lilly made in the development of tabalumab for rheumatoid arthritis is that it ended development early, saving money by not letting the trials go to completion before realizing that it was a dead end.

Over the next two years, Eli Lilly will see nearly $0.40 of every $1.00 in sales exposed to generic competition. How does the company plan to respond to this huge patent cliff? Better yet, what does this mean for investors? In a brand new premium report on Eli Lilly, The Motley Fool's top pharmaceuticals analyst delves into everything investors need to know about the stock today. Simply click here now to claim your copy.


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