Headliner: Eli Lilly's Bart Peterson

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Eli Lilly's new head of public relations, Bart Peterson, says most Americans agree that healthcare reform is way past due, and believes at least the early stages of reform will be achieved this year.

Named SVP of corporate affairs and communications at Eli Lilly in early June, Peterson says PhRMA's June commitment to discount drugs by $80 billion is “tangible sign” of the industry's willingness to embrace change.  
“Lilly and the other companies want to be part of a solution,” explains Peterson. “We look at healthcare reform as a real opportunity to fix those things that are wrong with the healthcare system in this country. We want a system we can be proud of because it serves everybody with high quality care.”

Peterson says Lilly's biggest concerns going into reform are intellectual property protection, pricing freedom and market access.

“These are the pillars of what has created the leading…bio pharma machine in the world,” explains Peterson. “With cutbacks in these areas in other countries, we've seen pharma and biotech research migrate to the US and our domestic efforts grow. America is the leading country in the world in R&D, and those pillars provide the foundation. We need to keep that in mind going forward. We've lost a few industries that we led the world in. Ten years from now, there should be more innovative drugs and better therapies across the board.”

A centrist Democrat in the mold of his political mentor, Sen. Evan Bayh, Peterson served two terms as Indianapolis mayor before losing his seat to Republican Greg Ballard in 2007. The Indianapolis Star noted that he replaces Alex Azar, who was deputy secretary of health and human services in the Bush administration before coming to Eli Lilly.
When Lilly approached him this year, he was heading real estate investment firm Strategic Capital Partners and teaching public affairs at Ball State University. Peterson leads Lilly's public affairs staff of 440 worldwide and will play a prominent role in lobbying. The job offer surprised him, but Peterson is no stranger to Lilly and its concerns.

“There's always been a remarkable synergistic relationship between the city and Lilly,” says Peterson. “I got a behind-the-scenes look at the company while I was mayor. I understood much better the innovation model, how it invests in R&D and how expensive and challenging it is to bring a new and innovative drug to market. I developed a real desire to help Lilly tell its story, and I often volunteered to do that.”

As any good marketer knows, you've got to know your audience. “You want to always understand the motivation and what's driving government side,” he says. “I bring understanding of how government folks think and how we should prioritize interacting with them.”

Peterson began his political career working for then-Indiana Gov. Bayh, first as advisor for environmental affairs and then chief of staff. Peterson and Bayh continued to work together on projects when Peterson became mayor, and remain friends.

Peterson helped create BioCrossroads, an initiative started around 2000 to develop life sciences businesses in the region. Lilly was a founding partner. Peterson says venture capital was critical and difficult to get, but BioCrossroads has successfully raised both private and government funding. An Indiana University study released this spring reports that biopharma and other life sciences created nearly one-fourth of all new jobs in Indiana between 2001 and 2007.

Healthcare reform is his main priority for the rest of the year, and Peterson will keep an eye on international public policy and health policy issues. “Ensuring that everyone in Lilly is focused on the best outcome for the patient is a significant piece of my job,” he adds. “Whether it's internal communications, external communications or negotiating with healthcare providers, if we keep our eye on what's best for the patient and how we can be successful by doing that, we will be successful.”

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