A Natural Chemistry Between Two Scientists

What’s better than loving your job? Getting to work with your best friend!

One morning in 1997, two women entered a packed auditorium at Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis for their first day of new-employee orientation. While the pair – one is a protein biochemist, the other a biologist – had never met before, they began chatting only to discover they shared a striking number of similarities. Both grew up in the same province in China and attended the Sichuan University. Ling Liu, Ph.D., and Jirong Lu, Ph.D., instantly recognized a connection, a bond that would generate a trusted friendship strengthened by their shared passion for cutting-edge science and spicy food!

Ling and Jirong, both scientists in biotechnology discovery research at Lilly, have made invaluable contributions to drug discovery and development by pushing the boundaries of innovation through their work in areas such as autoimmune diseases, oncology, neuroscience and diabetes.   

So what brought these two women to Lilly in the first place?

“Near the end of my post-doc when I was looking for great job opportunities, I came across a full-page ad in Science magazine on careers for women in science,” says Jirong. “The ad was for multiple openings at Lilly in a group where scientists optimize the protein to be used as therapeutics, understand its stability and improve its biological functions. I’ve always been fascinated by how proteins work, so I said, ‘Wow! That sounds like my dream job!’”

Ling followed a similar path. “As a young girl, I was inspired by the story of Madame Curie,” she says. “In graduate school, I studied genetics and molecular biology, which opened my eyes to the discovery work that scientists do. I came to Lilly because I really felt I had a great opportunity to discover medicines from the concept stage and move them through to clinical development.”

Ling and Jirong agree that they have helped one another learn and grow in their careers.

“Our areas of expertise complement each other; I think we actually have a natural affinity towards each other!” says Jirong. “In collaborations with other Lilly scientists, we have worked closely to discover several molecules that have been advanced to clinical development in humans,” adds Ling.

Their chemistry inside the lab has also led to fun outside the lab.

“One of the fun things Jirong and I do together to balance work and life is to learn and perform Chinese folk dancing,” says Ling. “Dance has allowed us to build friendships and helped us work together as a team.”

Jirong adds, “It also provides us opportunities to connect with others and share our culture through a number of events, including regional Chinese New Year celebrations and Lilly’s diversity events.”  

Here at Lilly, these two women have found friendship and a shared passion for drug discovery. And together – as women, as scientists and as friends – Ling and Jirong inspire each another and their colleagues to make life better for people around the world.