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$10 million Lilly program to enlist outside researchers for drug pipeline

Posted on 01 March 2012

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Eli Lilly and Co., which boasts one of the largest pool of medical researchers in the country, wants help from a few more scientists. 

The Indianapolis company said today it is kicking off a new program to allow its scientists to collaborate more closely with with outside, academic resarchers in an effort to boost its drug pipeline.

Lilly plans to spend about $10 million a year on projects that would support its drug discovery and development efforts. The first three projects chosen for funding are: Indiana University School of Medicine's program to study chronic pain; University Hospital of Copenhagen, Denmark's program to study cognition in relation to schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease; and the Institute of Neuroscience in Alicante, Spain's program to study the neurobiology of schizophrenia.

The new program builds on a strong tradition of collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers. In fact, Lilly launched a major commercial product, insulin, in 1923, after negotiating the rights from researchers at the University of Toronto, who had discovered the medicine.

Now Lilly is hoping to broaden that type of collaboration, said Jan Lundberg, president of Lilly Research Laboratories.

"Who knows? Maybe we can find our next insulin by using this approach," he said in an telephone interview today from Brussels, Belgium, where Lilly announced its initiative, called "Innovation Starts Here."

Lilly is also focusing on its own pipeline, which has about 70 experimental drugs in development to treat diseases from cancer to Alzheimer's disease. But the company has had trouble launching new medicines on its own in recent years, and is increasingly looking at all kinds of partnerships to increase "shots on goal."

The move comes as Lilly tries to cope with patent expirations of key drugs that are dragging down the company's profits and revenues. A few weeks ago, Lilly said its fourth-quarter profits fell 27 percent, due in part to patent expirations on drugs for schizophrenia and cancer. Its worldwide revenues dipped 2 percent in the fourth quarter.

As another component, Lilly is also creating "Innovation Fellowship Awards" to help post-doctoral scientists training career development. The awards establish a partnership where post-doctoral fellow and academic mentor are paired with a Lilly scientist to provide industry resources to academic research.


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