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Lilly opens diabetes R&D centre in Shanghai

Will explore genetic basis of diabetes in Chinese patients ahead of tailoring new treatments

Lilly China Shanghai pharma drug researchLilly has set its sights firmly on the Chinese diabetes market and plans to develop a new range of diabetes treatments specifically tailored to Chinese patients.

The pharma company has just opened a new R&D centre in Shanghai and tasked it with discovering “innovative diabetes medicines with novel mechanisms of action … to delay the progression of the disease”.

To begin with the Lilly China Research and Development Center (LCRDC) will focus on evaluating a pool of highly selective targets, which Lilly says have the potential to deliver “robust candidates”, and will help stock its product portfolio with “novel treatment opportunities”.

Lilly's current diabetes treatments include Byetta and Bydureon (exenatide), and it signed a deal last year with Boehringer Ingelheim to jointly develop and market several diabetes products including oral agents and basal insulins.

The first product from this collaboration to reach the market is DPP-4 inhibitor Tradjenta (linagliptin), which has just been shown to be effective at controlling blood sugar in African Americans with type 2 diabetes - the first time a drug in its class has been tested specifically in a black population.

The LCRDC (pictured above) employs approximately 150 scientists and staff hired primarily from China. The company said it would also look to collaborate and link up with local academic research centres and partners.

At the same time Lilly is outsourcing some of the LCRDC's early-stage work and has signed a diabetes discovery partnership with contract research organisation (CRO) Covance.

The CRO will provide the LCRDC with a range of services, including pharmacology studies, pharmacokinetic screening and other preclinical research to test and evaluate potential new diabetes medicines.

Jan Lundberg, executive vice president, science and technology, and president, Lilly Research Laboratories, said: "Conquering a devastating disease like diabetes requires innovation, collaboration and investment.

“The establishment of the Lilly China Research and Development Center demonstrates we are serious about discovering and developing desperately needed breakthrough medicines for Chinese people with diabetes." 

Diabetes, which affects nearly 90m in China, is a significant public health problem for the country, but genetic factors mean further research is necessary to better understand the disease.

One of the differences seen in Chinese people with diabetes is that they have a significantly lower average body mass index (BMI) than do Americans with diabetes. They also tend to have a higher prevalence of abdominal obesity, fatty liver and insulin resistance compared with non-Asians with diabetes.

Exploring the genetic profiles of Chinese, and eventually Asian, people with diabetes is a key area of research being conducted at the LCRDC. 

Bei Betty Zhang, vice president of China Research and site head and general manager, LCRDC, said: "Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in China – there are more people in China with diabetes than in any other country in the world, with as many as three-quarters of them not having adequate control of their disease."

In the last decade, Lilly has broadened and extended its presence in China, most recently constructing a new insulin production, packaging and warehouse facility in Suzhou, which is expected to open this year.

1st June 2012

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