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17 July 2017

Big deal: Purdue inks $52m deal with Eli Lilly

The research collaboration agreement is the largest ever such deal signed by Purdue University.

Author: Thierry Heles, editor

Purdue University has entered a $52m strategic collaboration agreement with pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly that will involve researchers from the natural and physical sciences, engineering and veterinary medicine.

The deal is the largest such agreement Purdue has signed with a corporate, though it follows a long history of collaboration between the two partners.

Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, said: “Lilly and Purdue University are entering a new level of collaboration that will move us forward in areas core to both institutions. Our investment on campus in the life sciences announced in 2016 is leading to just the types of impact we hoped to effect.”

The collaboration will focus on a few key research areas, such as developing more efficient ways to deliver injectable drugs with a view to ensuring better patient compliance, reducing pain and developing predictive clinical models that can better predict the outcome of human trials and thereby reduce the risk involved in drug development.

The cooperation is expected to expand into other areas that exploit the expertise of researchers at Purdue and Eli Lilly, though details have not been revealed. However, involving faculty with a wide variety of backgrounds, from engineering to veterinary medicine, in the collaboration, the prospects for ground-breaking projects appears high.

David Ricks, chairman, president and chief executive of Eli Lilly, said: “The biomedical revolution is upon us, but harnessing its full potential will require strong collaboration between academic research centres and industry partners.”

There is never a guarantee for success – in a press release, Eli Lilly noted that the collaboration may not realise the expected benefits and may not lead to commercially successful products.

But Purdue is already conducting promising biomedical research that could have a fundamental impact on healthcare. One of its projects is looking at the limitations of Car-T therapy, led by Philip Low, professor of chemistry and director of the Purdue Centre for Drug Discovery.

Car-T therapy uses reprogrammed T-cells, a natural part of the immune system, to destroy cancer cells. While the treatment can be effective, sometimes it is too efficient – killing tumour cells at such a speed that a toxic reaction is triggered in the patient or destroying healthy cells once the cancer is gone.

Low’s approach means the Car-T cells would need to be activated by a small molecule, potentially making the process safer.

And while Low’s research is being undertaken with the support of drug developer Endocyte, it underlines the level of expertise present at Purdue University that enticed Eli Lilly to commit such a large sum to the agreement.

Andrew Dahlem, vice-president and chief operating officer at Lilly Research Laboratories, said: “This strategic agreement links our two organisations in a commitment to scientific research supporting the global needs of patients. In addition, our collaboration strengthens our shared commitment to attract and retain the top engineering and technology talent in Indiana.”

Suresh Garimella, executive vice-president for research and partnerships and professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, added: “Purdue University’s investment in the life sciences last year has undoubtedly increased opportunities for engagement with industry partners.

“This agreement with one of the most prominent companies headquartered in the state of Indiana is a particular point of pride. The collaboration was structured from inception to be coordinated by the leadership at Lilly and Purdue to ensure relevance and unprecedented collaboration among teams of university and company researchers.”

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