The innovation of innovation

Pharmaceutical innovation can take many forms. Seeking out new treatments for diseases such as diabetes or cancer is one. Developing quicker and safer manufacturing techniques is another.

And here's one more: pro bono biological testing of compounds submitted by outside investigators. It's a low-risk, high-reward initiative that, over the past 18 months, has attracted increasing interest and could lead to breakthrough treatments for patients.

The program is called Phenotypic Drug Discovery Initiative (you can learn more at State-of-the-art biological assays and a secure web portal are used to evaluate the therapeutic potential of novel compounds synthesized in outside settings, such as universities or small biotech companies. Lilly performs free-of-charge biological testing, and in return, we retain first rights to negotiate a collaboration or licensing agreement with the investigators and their institutions. But if no agreement is reached, the investigator retains ownership of the data report -- no strings attached -- and can use the information in publications, grant proposals, or to further refine their hypotheses. In short, we're putting our money where our mouth is.

Alan Palkowitz, Ph.D., Lilly's vice president of discovery chemistry research and technologies, said PD2 provides a more convenient point-of-entry to Lilly's discovery and development processes for potential collaborators who are conducting exciting science beyond our own walls. The net result? Positive relationships between Lilly and the outside organizations -- and potentially new life-saving medications.

PD2 is an innovative twist on the Fully Integrated Pharmaceutical Network (FIPNet) model - a process that allows companies like Lilly to use a wide network of partners to find medical discoveries. And in an era in which discovery is becoming more and more challenging -- and the bar higher and higher -- PD2 is a refreshing approach. And the interest level among outside researchers is high: to date, more than 190 institutions in 26 countries have become affiliated with the program, and thousands of compounds have been evaluated. PD2 may lead to new molecules entering the Lilly pipeline one day. And, if we're lucky, new treatments for difficult-to-treat diseases won't be far behind.