Lately, things have been a bit topsy-turvy at Eli Lilly and Co (NYSE:LLY). Shareholders and casual observers of the pharmaceutical industry probably know that the pharmaceutical giant began the year with a new CEO, and the current CFO has announced her retirement after 27 years with the company.
After years of lackluster sales growth, Lilly's executive suite shuffle shouldn't raise many eyebrows, but this company is full of surprises. Here are a few big ones, starting with its history.
1. It's really old
The old-time font Lilly uses for its logo isn't an attempt to convey a sense of timelessness. The company was founded by Colonel Eli Lilly in 1876 to address a scourge of inconsistent elixirs that flourished in the absence of government regulation.
The Indiana company incorporated 25 years later and has since expanded from the Midwest to become a global player. With manufacturing and distribution facilities in 15 countries, Eli Lilly's products are sold in approximately 125 countries worldwide.
2. Not just for humans
Selling drugs to veterinarians is a larger component of Eli Lilly's operations than you might think if you were aware of its animal health segment in the first place. Last year, the sale of medicines to veterinarians made up about 15% of total revenue.
The company's large animal health segment is largely due to some recent acquisitions, including a $5.4 billion purchase of Novartis' animal health operations. This and several smaller acquisitions over the past few made Lilly's subsidiary, Elanco Animal Health, the world's second-largest veterinary pharmaceutical company with $3.16 billion in sales last year.
The largest player in the animal health space right now is Zoetis, which Pfizer spun off as a separate company in 2013. Since then, Zoetis stock has more than doubled, and investors have pressured Lilly to follow the leader in hopes Elanco could do the same.
Under former CEO John Lechleiter, Lilly rejected the idea outright. With several fresh faces in the executive suite, investors will want to watch for signs the company is willing to reconsider a spin-off.
3. An industry outlier
Building up animal health operations while peers shed theirs isn't the only way this company stands out. At a time when other big pharmas were merging left and right, Eli Lilly remained on the sidelines. Management made the argument that the internal disruption that megamergers cause would outweigh any cost-saving benefits.
In hindsight, it looks like Leichliter may have been right, at least from a shareholder's perspective. In 2009, Pfizer merged with Wyeth in a deal worth around $68 billion, and Merck shelled out about $41 billion for Schering-Plough. From the beginning of 2009 through the present, though, Lilly stock price has outperformed Pfizer's, and it hasn't fared much worse than Merck's.
4. Price-hike dependant
Over the past several years, an unusual number of late-stage clinical-trial failures has slowed the number of new drugs emerging from Lilly's pipeline to a trickle. With a lack of new drugs to drive growth, the company has had to boost prices on existing products before patent expirations make such hikes impossible. As my Foolish colleague Sean Williams pointed out recently, Eli Lilly is one of seven drugmakers that relied on price hikes for 100% of its earnings growth last year.
Consider Humalog, which earned its first FDA approval more than 20 years ago, and recently lost patent protection in most major markets. The fast-acting insulin is Lilly's single largest revenue stream and comprised about 13.5% of total sales during the first quarter of the year. European regulators are currently reviewing, Sanofi's biosimilar version of Humalog, which could begin pressuring sales of Lilly's brand before the end of the year.
5. Staging a comeback
Late-stage failures aren't the only reason this company has one of the weakest late-stage pipelines in the industry. During Lechleiter's tenure as CEO, the company wasn't terribly enthusiastic about acquiring or licensing new drug candidates from smaller companies.
It looks like Eli Lilly is finally jumping on the bandwagon that's been instrumental in the recent success of big-pharma peers Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson. Since David Ricks took the CEO position at the beginning of 2017, the company has already completed two mid-sized acquisitions.
In January, Lilly increased its reach into the animal-vaccine space with an $882 million purchase of assets from Boehringer Ingelheim. More recently, the company bulked up its late-stage pipeline with the purchase of CoLucid and its migraine-headache candidate for $832 million. Lasmiditan has already been proven to reduce migraine headache pain within two hours of dosing. The company has another migraine candidate in late-stage development, called galcanezumab, which aims to reduce headache frequency with long-term use.
Annual expenses associated with migraines are estimated at around $36 billion in the U.S. alone, but the vast majority remain untreated. If both of Lilly's candidates eventually earn approval, Lilly could quickly become a leader in this underserved space.