Progress For Eli Lilly & The FDA


Right around the closing bell today an FDA advisory committee voted unanimously in favor of recommending approval of Eli Lilly's bloodthinner called Effient. The agency usually, but not always follows the advice of its outside panels of experts. If the FDA says yes, the drug would compete with Plavix from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis .

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If you've never attended or listened to one of these panel meetings, many of them can be real yawners. It's not uncommon to spot people in the audience taking a siesta. The committees typically take tremendously deep dives into the data. And in this case, LLY says its application for approval would stack nearly as high as the Empire State Building. And if you're there in person, you're pretty much captive, especially if the meeting is in Gaithersburg, MD where—no offense to Gaithersburgers—there ain't much goin' on outside the Holiday Inn or Hilton.

The meetings alternate between G-town and Silver Spring, which is markedly better. If I've got other stuff to handle or the meeting isn't that consequential or controversial, I'll buy the webcast for $140 at www.fdalive.com. And that's what I did today.

Anyway, it's a lot of sitting and waiting until the ultimate, crucial vote at the end of the meeting. And at CNBC we want to get the results communicated to our investor audience as quickly as possible and, of course, accurately. But, in the past, that's been a bit of a challenge, to say the least. Oftentimes the Chair is a practicing doctor and/or academician and is unaccustomed to running a formal meeting like this. The language of the questions has been changed at the last minute and on the fly leading to massive confusion by panelists and observers—i.e. reporters . Committee members have changed their votes and then changed them back again. The chair or secretary has neglected to announce the final tally, so we've been left to our own devices to try to figure out the vote. You get the picture. And it ain't pretty.

So, a hearty shout out to someone at the FDA for installing an electronic voting system that was apparently used for the first time today. Panelists simply had to push a button for yes, no or abstain and then—and this is the absolute beauty of it—the vote pops up on the screen in the room. A camera was trained on the screen, so those of us on the webcast could see it, too. 9-0. No confusion. Instant tally.

Hallelujah! I'm sure after a couple of FDA delays for this drug, the folks at LLY HQ in Indianapolis are saying the same thing.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com