A Q&A on Research Partnerships

BIO Official Blogger Badge As vice president, global external research & development, Lilly’s Elaine Sullivan searches worldwide for innovation beyond our walls to identify molecules and technologies that can add value to Lilly’s pipeline. I had a chance to catch up with Elaine at the 2014 BIO International Convention, where she shared her team’s approach to building new partnerships and funding models to help advance medical discovery.

What brings you to BIO?
I lead Lilly’s Global External Research and Development Group, a part of the company that looks for new opportunities and partnerships that will help us deliver innovative medicines to people with unmet medical needs. We look for these opportunities throughout the entire value chain--from discovery to late phase development. The strategy is to find interesting molecules or technologies, and then use unique financing models to fund the research. The ultimate goal is to develop new, innovative medicines to meet the needs of patients worldwide.

How would you define your approach to partnerships?
When it comes to external partnerships, our philosophy involves creating a custom approach that leverages the strengths of both partners. For our partners, that’s often external resources, scientific expertise and development capabilities. At the same time, we can bring the capacity and capability to advance molecules and technologies to bring them to market.

Can you give an example of how these partnerships and models work?
One of the innovative models we created is the Capital Funds Portfolio to share the risk inherent in a biopharmaceutical company’s pipeline through access to innovation and funding outside its own walls.

How does this work?
Independent investment funds finance new companies (called project-focused-companies, or PFCs). Each PFC is specifically created to conduct early phase development for just one early-stage molecule that it acquires (from Lilly or other sources) to clinical proof-of-concept (PoC). If the PoC studies are positive, meaning the molecule seems to be working, then the PFC offers the molecule up for sale to biopharmaceutical companies.

For example, in January 2014, Arteaus became the first of these PFCs to complete a PoC study for a potential migraine prevention medicine. Lilly acquired the molecule and it is now in our clinical development pipeline. Today there are 9 PFCs in the Capital Funds Portfolio, and we’re anticipating 3-4 new PFCs every year over the next several years. Many of the potential new medicines in the portfolio are First in Class, which means they could be the first treatment of its kind. These represent potential breakthroughs for which there may be no treatment available or the current treatment is just not good enough.

At what point in the development process do you expect the majority of these partnerships to take place?
Opportunities with late stage molecules are becoming more scarce. When we work together in the earlier phases of development, we’ve found we can best maximize our unique R&D insights. We try and foster early engagement to co-develop a medicine so that we can help shape the potential medicine together rather than wait for the right molecule to come along later. By collaborating with others we are able to share the risk and reward of drug discovery and development.

Where can people find out more?
The Lilly External Innovation Partnering website is a great resource to get more information about Lilly’s partnering capabilities. You can find out how to partner with Lilly, learn more about our academic collaborations as well as our industry and biotech collaborations.