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Eli Lilly's Taurel: Don't Shoot Me, I'm Just A Reporter!

Sidney Taurel
Sidney Taurel

If you arrive for work at CNBC headquarters early enough you can pick up a copy of "The Wall Street Journal" at the lobby desk when you walk in. Today, I grabbed mine and set it down on my desk while I logged onto my computer and cleaned out my inbox.

Meantime, Joe Kernen had just walked off the set after wrapping up "Squawk Box" and as he sauntered by, he shouted, "Hey, Huckman! Did you see Sidney Taurel's op-ed piece in 'The Journal'? He mentions you by name!" Okay, drop everything. I quickly opened the front section to the op-ed page and scanned the piece headlined, "The Media on Drugs" (don't like that turn of phrase, by the way) by none other than the Chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly , Sidney Taurel. Here's the link. Can't find my name. Turns out Kernen, as is his way, was referring to the Huckman reference as a 'read between the lines' kind of thing. Taurel doesn't name any names.

Taurel is complaining about the media coverage of recent news surrounding his company's experimental bloodthinner which sent his stock into a swoon. First, a report--which CNBC did not break, but did cover--about LLY halting enrollment in two small clinical trials of the drug. And second, about the subsequent embargoed results of a large study of LLY's prasugrelversus Plavix from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis . Taurel admonishes the news media to not "trade in leaks and rumors where scientific data are concerned. Wait for real numbers, and take the time to explain statistics and benefit risk analysis, which cannot be conveyed in sound bites alone." And throughout the piece he refers to the "media beast" which he accurately portrays as needing to be fed almost 24/7.

I think Taurel is shooting the messenger. Lilly had to know that the original story about the halted clinical trials was going to break. And, if so, it had a golden opportunity to try to get out in front of it and do some spin control. For example, offer up high-level executives to reporters immediately. Put out a more detailed statement than the one it released. The company might argue that its hands were tied because of the pending embargo on the larger clinical trial results which were soon due to be presented at the American Heart Association meeting and published in "The New England Journal of Medicine."

But I suspect that given the extraordinary circumstances--the news of the two smaller studies being halted and the steep $6 billion decline in LLY's market value because of it--that the company might have been able to convince AHA and/or NEJM to loosen up a little and let its officials discuss at least some of the results in an open forum, pre-embargo.

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I could be wrong, though, as scientific organizations and medical journals are extremely protective of their material because they want the big media bang that occurs when an embargo lifts, especially on a huge, highly-anticipated clinical trial like this one.

If Lilly doesn't cancel, I will be doing a live interview with Mr. Taurel on "Squawk Box" ahead of his company's analyst meeting in New York next week. He and I have enjoyed a good working relationship. He's almost always been accessible and is one of the few big pharma CEOs who doesn't shy away from the camera and is adept at fielding rapid-fire questions on a variety of topics "live" and on the fly. So, I'm looking forward to what I hope will be an enlightening discussion about whether it's the media or Eli Lilly who's "on drugs".

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com

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