Lilly Endowment giving IU medical school $25M to fund life sciences initiatives

In a move intended to boost Indiana’s position as a life sciences research hub, Lilly Endowment Inc. is giving $25 million to the Indiana University School of Medicine to create a biomedical research center, establish a doctoral program in bioinformatics and hire at least 10 biomedical scientists.

The two institutions announced the grant Tuesday afternoon, saying it is designed to attract top scientists to Indiana.

The money will allow the medical school to set up a new collaboration with non-academic research partners around the state, including Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics, Dow AgroSciences, Cook Group, Indiana University Health, Eskenazi Health and the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute.

The collaboration will be called the Indiana Collaborative Initiative for Talent Enrichment, or INCITE for short.

The IU School of Medicine said it expects the collaborations will focus on key research areas, including new treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and childhood diseases.

“For Indiana to continue to grow as one of our nation’s leading centers for life science research and innovation, it is critical that we continue to attract the top research talent to our state,” IU President Michael McRobbie said in a statement.

Indianapolis has struggled to attract and retain top talent, compared with many other cities, such as Pittsburgh, Denver, Nashville and Baltimore, according to research from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis is trying to make the city more exciting for scientists and other professionals, through such efforts as creating the 16 Tech innovation district, just north of the medical school.

The goal of that project is to transform an aging business district into a vibrant research area, by creating an active “work-live-play” urban environment. The anchor tenant of the district will be the fledgling Indiana Biosciences Research Institute.

IBRI officials said they are excited by the $25 million grant.

“The ability to attract top talent is vital to the continued growth of life sciences in Indiana, IBRI CEO David Broecker said in a statement. “This initiative will help us recruit world-class researchers from around the country and across the globe and keep our homegrown talent here, too. We are excited to be a part of it.”

Other large Indiana players in life sciences were similarly upbeat.

"With this new grant, we look forward to the potential to enhance the ecosystem for scientists in Indiana and further the work that has been done to create a life science hub in our state,” Andrew Dahlem, vice president for Lilly Research Laboratories, said in a statement.

It’s the latest major gift from the Lilly Endowment, one of the country’s largest private philanthropic organizations, to the IU medical school. The endowment awarded grants in 2000 and 2002 totaling $155 million to help the school build research infrastructure. It gave another $60 million in 2009 to help the school recruit scientists trained as both physicians and researchers.

“Lilly Endowment is pleased to help build on the school’s impressive strengths through this innovative and collaborative new initiative, which will not only enhance the life sciences sector but also result in advances in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of health concerns,” Sara B. Cobb, the endowment’s vice president for education, said in a statement.

Part of the money will be used to help create a biomedical research center with cryo-electron microscopy technology to study the structure of molecules. The center will be available to researchers at the medical school and other life sciences organizations in Indiana.

Other institutions involved in the collaboration will include Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame, through the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, a statewide partnership funded by the National Institutes of Health that aims to improve public health.

The money from Lilly Endowment also will fund the establishment of a doctoral program in bioinformatics to help train the next generation of scientists in genomic medicine. The university currently offers a PhD in informatics with a specialization in bioinformatics, a spokeswoman said. The new program will be in "biomedical informatics" with a focus on medicine and health, she said.

The grant marks just the latest major gift to the medical school. In December, Indianapolis millionaire and tech entrepreneur Don Brown said he would donate $30 million to speed up research into how to use the immune system to fight cancer and other ravaging diseases.

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