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March 18 (Reuters) - Citigroup upgraded Eli Lilly & Co (LLY.N) to "buy" from "hold" and said it expects the U.S. health regulators to approve the company's new blood thinner, Effient, in the first half of 2009. Analyst John Boris, who also raised his price target on the stock to $41 from $36, said the label negotiations for Effient are tipped in Lilly's favor, following an unanimous backing from a U.S. panel in February. "We expect the label to be broad in scope, with the lower dose (5mg) approved to manage high risk patients," Boris said in his note. "We expect any cancer risk to be mentioned in the label, but don't expect a warning or Black Box warning limiting length of therapy," he added.
Eli Lilly is developing Effient with Daiichi Sankyo Co Ltd (4568.T). The drug, generically known as prasugrel, would offer an alternative for some patients to Plavix, now sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMY.N) and Sanofi-Aventis SA (SASY.PA).
However, experts have been concerned about the drug's association with cancer, noticed during a trial, and the chances of serious bleeding. Thus the labelling of the drug has been a much-discussed issue among investors. Eli Lilly shares were trading up about a percent at $32.13 in early morning trade Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Esha Dey in Bangalore; Editing by Anil D'Silva)