One way or another, drug development will cost you. If you want to stay in the business of pharmaceuticals, you pretty much have to throw a lot of money into basic R&D, or else spend a lot of money on acquiring/licensing other companies and compounds. Either way, it's going to take money and time.

Time is something of a mixed blessing for Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) right now, as the company tries to balance a weak late-stage pipeline with increasing contributions from newer approved drugs. For the fourth quarter, Lilly's revenue rose 6% (on a 7% increase in volume), with newer drugs making up 20% of that total -- up from 18% in the third quarter.

While sales were once again led by Zyprexa (which was down 5%), newer compounds such as Cymbalta, Alimta, and Forteo had the more impressive growth, though of course from a much smaller base. Diabetes care was also an important source of revenue once again, with sales here up 11% on decent growth from Humalog and good growth from Byetta.

Profitability, though, was a bit more mixed, depending on which numbers you choose to include or exclude. For example, adding back impairment and acquired R&D charges results in virtually no operating income growth, while adding back an unusual tax item and an accounting change leads to adjusted EPS growth of about 7%. Go one step further, adding pro forma options expense in the year-ago period, and the EPS growth jumps to 16%.

Financial gymnastics aside, it was a mediocre result for what I consider a mediocre pharmaceutical investment option. Sure, inhaled insulin (in partnership with Alkermes (NASDAQ:ALKS)) has potential, and maybe the pipeline can outperform expectations. Maybe Cymbalta sales will really accelerate. And maybe the company will buy its partner Amylin (NASDAQ:AMLN) and/or other biotech or small pharmaceutical companies.

There are hundreds of "maybes" that you can play in the investment game. I'd rather spend my time finding better, less maybe-reliant ideas.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson owns shares of Amylin Pharmaceuticals but has no financial interest in any other stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).