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Lilly CEO calls for life sciences research institute

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John Lechleiter, the CEO of drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co., is calling for the creation of a "world-class" research institute in Indianapolis to bring together scientists from universities and corporations to develop new medical therapies and companies.

Lechleiter, in a Tuesday morning speech before a summit sponsored by Indianapolis-based life sciences group BioCrossroads, said Lilly would commit an unspecified amount of money to sponsor research at the new institute, as well as allowing its scientists to participate in collaborations at the institute.

“I sort of see it as the kettle on the stove. It’s boiling, it’s just brimming over with ideas,” Lechleiter said of the research institute he has in mind, which he compared to the Broad Institute in Massachusetts or the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.

The research institute idea, which Lechleiter hopes gets launched by state, university and corporate leaders within the next year, was part of a broader charge he gave leaders in Indiana to redouble their efforts to grow life sciences businesses here.

“On one hand, we can be content with the progress we’ve made, and continue to follow the same path that got us this far. My prediction is that this will produce diminishing returns over time,” Lechleiter said in a ballroom at the Westin hotel downtown. “Or we can make a course correction based on a sober assessment of our strengths and shortcomings and those of the competition we face.”

To do that, Indiana needs to train and attract talented life sciences workers, Lechlieter said, which will require improvements in Indiana’s K-12 education, greater access to vocational training, investments in mass transit and an inclusive policy environment.

He also called for the state government to “re-engage” with the life sciences, echoing many industry criticisms of the Indiana 21st Century Research & Technology Fund for pulling back from biotech and medical device firms.

“To date,” Lechleiter said, “[state government] has been largely cheering from the sidelines.”

Lechleiter said the state’s research universities need to be more entrepreneurial in order to support the state’s life sciences industry, with more faculty pursuing and being rewarded for pursuing the practical applications of their research.

“This is what we see today in San Francisco, in Boston, in San Diego, but not here—or at least not nearly as much as we should,” Lechleiter said.

Lechleiter also called out Lilly’s shortcomings. While Lilly has greatly increased the amount of research it does via partnerships with other companies, Lechleiter said the company is doing “far too little” with universities in Indiana.

“We’re in a target-rich environment that we’re not making full advantage of,” he said in an interview after his speech.

Indianapolis-based Lilly does spend $1 billion annually with 1,300 vendors in Indiana. But Lechleiter said he’s not aiming for more fee-for-service relationships, but rather creating collaborations with outside scientists.

The institute he has in mind would try to bring together faculty from Indiana University, Purdue University, the University of Notre Dame and even out of state to work with scientists from Lilly and other commercial enterprises.

Their research collaborations would be “outcome-driven,” Lechleiter said, pushing toward new medicines, medical procedures or enterprises.

Lechleiter said the institute would have “liberalized intellectual property policies,” as well as sponsorships for funding. He also suggested that ideas generated by Lilly scientists that Lilly decides not to fund could be taken to the institute to be developed into independent products or companies.

Lilly also will hire in the next year a new employee to seek out alliances with Indiana’s universities, and Lechleiter said the company would create an internal scorecard to measure how many new in-state alliances it is forming each year.

“Within a year, I don’t want anybody within the state to say to Lilly, ‘You guys are hard to work with,’” Lechleiter said.

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  • Life Science Job Opportunities Needed to Attract Graduates to Stay in Indiana
    I agree with Dr. Lechleiter that a Life Science Research Institute might boost Indiana's profile on the biomedical jobs stage. Instead of saddling the State with this funding responsibility, such an Institute should revolve out of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology community in Indianapolis, such as Novartis creating its well respected Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research. I think some in the life science community have high hopes about the new IU Health Neuroscience Center as being the first step toward a world-class research and healthcare center being based in central Indiana. The other issue I see a problem with is the actual job creation and opportunities for graduates finishing with Master's degrees and Ph.D.'s from Indiana's biomedical programs. Job creation in the life sciences needs to be the number one priority in the State. Indiana's economy has come back in large part due to the life sciences and is among the top five states in the US with the larges concentration of life science employees, according to the recent Batelle report. This is great! However, the opportunities are lacking for people such as myself, who have a life science Master's degree and an MBA and desire more of a scientific affairs role away from the laboratory. (By the way, I happen to be unemployed.) Such an Institute as mentioned by Dr. Lechleiter might allow people like me to have greater opportunities. The bottom line is the State needs more than 1.4% job growth per year in the life sciences, according to Batelle. We can do better, anchored by the strength in Indianapolis of Eli Lilly, Roche Diagnostics, Dow Agro Sciences, research-based hospitals; and in Fort Wayne and Warsaw (the Orthopedics capital of the World) with companies such as Zimmer, DePuy, Biomet and others. This strong core will allow Indiana to become the Life Science capital of the Midwest.
  • Cord Blood Bank
    Indiana has a law (P.L. 134-2008, I.C. 12-31) on the books establishing a Cord Blood Bank to be used for transplant and research. This is a vital step in the growth of our Life Sciences. Even though the law has been on the books since 2008, The Advisory Board apparently still has not met. Four years of useable stem cell rich cord blood has been incinerated. Maybe Mr. Lechleiter can encourage the State to move on this Law finally.
  • OUR STATE NEEDS TO ACT!!!
    For our State to be able to attract outsiders and to provide a serious environment for this type of approach, it needs to make fundamental changes in a variety of ways. If one observes those areas of the country of real biotech activity and innovation, one first sees a large number of research medical schools in those areas. It is not the size of the medical school (i.e number of medical students), but the quality of research. Our State will never be able to attract anyone with just one research medical school (i.e IU) which is second tier at best. Unfortunately, in these difficult economic times, I doubt if the State would fund another research medical school even though Purdue has most of the fundamentals already in place. The other obvious need for our State is the training of more physicians to treat our citizens which our State desperately needs, even before health care reform is fully implemented and even with Marian starting its our program in the near future. I have made these opinions before, and expect the same silence again.

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