A sampling of panelists’ comments at the April 28 Life Sciences Power Breakfast:
SMALL: The [life sciences] ecosystem is really important. Having been in life sciences now for 15, 20 years here in Indiana, me based in Indiana but all of my companies elsewhere, Indiana’s just been basically making a lot of progress. People want to make a lot of progress fast or be in that type of ecosystem instantly, but ecosystems don’t just happen—it takes a long period of time. They’ve been preparing the soil and I think [the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute] is just one of those first real sprouts or plants now in this ecosystem. It could be a significant center of gravity for us to advance things long term. So I think it’s fantastic.
TREBLEY: One of the things that is a bottleneck currently is space—space in an a la carte kind of fashion where you can rent a couple hundred square feet in a lab, plus then you have a la carte access to all the life science equipment you need. We don’t have anything like that. I see 16 Tech and the [Indiana Biosciences Research Institute] as filling that.
KNERR: We don’t believe that the pricing environment is going to get any better, and so we believe companies are going to continue to look for ways to grow outside of just price. It’s going to be innovation and it’s going to be volume-driven-type growth.
LUNDBERG: It’s kind of special to compare the big clinical trial Phase 3 cost with [the more than $700 million cost of] Lucas Oil Stadium.
I have my office at the Lilly top floor, and I can see the Lucas Oil Stadium every day. But [former CEO] John Lechleiter clearly told me that you have to be careful here with our bets. What we did at Lilly under John then was to really raise the bar for betting on the Lucas Oil Stadiums, and I think we have seen in just a few years now that things are turning around, and we are building many more stadiums that are real. And we have done this by clearly some strategic focus into therapeutic areas that we have a better chance of understanding disease and creating successful products.
ARMSTRONG: In some ways, if this pool of [management talent] that can help us take these technologies and move them from the laboratories down in Bloomington and up here in Indianapolis and turn those into opportunities that we can raise money around [were larger], that would be a tremendous help for us.
LUNDBERG: I think we have seen now in the last few years that Lilly’s on kind of a record path, although I know we have had two [R&D] setbacks relatively recently. I think it looks very promising that we will have 10 new products approved in five years, which is unheard of in the history of Lilly and probably in the pharmaceutical industry—in particular for a company of Lilly’s size, which is only a third of Pfizer’s.
Yes, you have [R&D] setbacks in the pharmaceutical industry, but we see the glass as not half empty but it’s almost full. And right now our biggest problem is actually to fund all the opportunities we have, particularly for doing additional indications which are very rational and likely to succeed.
TREBLEY: Some of the brightest minds on the planet are living in our back yard and they’re working on some of the biggest problems that our society faces. So we need to help them [by providing management talent].
We can’t count on them to start, form and run their own startup companies at the same time they’re doing research and writing grants and publishing papers and supporting their institutions. And so we need to create an ecosystem that helps shepherd those early-stage assets, and I think once you get them through to that seed … stage, then capital will come, management will come. But we need to do a better job at that early stage.
ARMSTRONG: IU’s a big place, all the schools. It’s probably daunting to think, “How do I connect with that group?” What we try to do is be a front door to the university and get people to the right place.
TREBLEY: The issue of immigration is not just one for large companies like Lilly. It’s very much a part of our daily lives trying to get the [right] employee into a company. Oftentimes, when we work with a faculty, this graduate student or this post-doc is literally the one person in the world that knows how to do what we need to do.
We can do a license, we can file patents, we can raise money, but the transfer of knowledge is so much a part of the commercialization. Being able to take that post-doc student and put them in a company is one of the most important steps early on.
And I can’t tell you how many times I run into H-1B visa issues in that situation because, for whatever reason, their major doesn’t qualify or whatnot. If you look at that just from a business perspective, we’ve had this brilliant scientist living in our community for years and she’s been largely supported with federal dollars. So we pay to train her and she’s done amazingly good work and we couldn’t be prouder to have her part of the community. Here we have a chance to start a company, but we can’t because she has to go back home. So that is a real issue.
LUNDBERG: A company like Lilly, which is 140 years old, needs a constant renewal of new, fresh blood coming in from campuses and young students with ideas and no prejudice about what can be done and what can’t be done. So we really need post-docs, we need the younger generation, but the more mature, experienced people are also extremely valuable because they represent the corporate memory of innovation, of decades of experience and should transfer their knowledge into the new ones.
KNERR: We’re in the information age and so, if companies aren’t thinking about their digital footprint and how they can use information and use data to improve their supply chain, [they’re missing out].
LUNDBERG: One aspect which I think needs to be emphasized here is that information technology may be one of our future opportunities, but it’s also one of our future problems because, to protect information and protect against espionage and data leakages, it’s become increasingly important. So, yes, we need to generate the information, but we also need to protect it.
TREBLEY: One of the things that this conversation is kind of alluding to is we’re competing for capital, right, not just for the tech community but also just putting your capital into an index fund, right? So I think one of the lessons that researchers have to learn when they take their baby out of the academic world and into the marketplace is that it may be the love of their life, but it’s competing against some other easier, perceptively less risky opportunities.
RUFF: I think there’s going to be a big push in this [Trump] administration to redo regulation and I think in some areas that might concern me but in some areas—including drug and device taxes, regulations on moving things to market—we may see some real advancements.•