Eli Lilly & Company has increased its neuroscience research investment in the UK with the launch of new research facilities at its Erl Wood R&D campus in Surrey.
Opened by president of Lilly Research Laboratories Dr Jan Lundberg (pictured above left) and UK life sciences advocate Professor Lord Robert Winston, the facilities come at a cost of £5.4m and house 130 staff, many of whom had previously worked in temporary facilities at the site.
The move is another step forward both for Lilly's neuroscience plans, especially in Alzheimer's disease, and its aim to boost its UK research efforts, explained Dr Lundberg in his speech to mark the opening of the facility.
He said: “The UK is a great place to do bioscience research. Not only does the UK benefit from have a strong research base, the government is also able to maintain a stable pricing and reimbursement system. As well financial incentives for R&D, this demonstrates that the UK government has a commitment to maintain its positions as s global leader in attracting pharmaceutical investment.”
But Lord Winston said the image of the science industry was something that needed to improve in the UK, and he referenced negative coverage of such issues of GM crops, the MMR vaccine and nuclear science.
Pharma was no exception, with the industry needing to learn from the "powerful messages" that were associated with stem cell and embryonic research, which Lord Winston highlighted as the area of science that had been received well in the UK.
“One thing we have to do is improve the environment in which we work,” he said. “There is a kind of tension – it's as if we're frightened of being proud of what the industry does. And it's shocking to think that's the environment we're still in. We have to be ready to address and engage and get our message out about what we're doing and why this is a most ethical industry.”
Thomas Thorp, senior director of corporate affairs at Lilly UK, agreed this was a challenge, but said it was one the company hoped to overcome through its research efforts at Erl Wood
He said: “I think neuroscience has the ability to do that, if we're successfully finding medicines to treat areas of high unmet medical need with a high burden of illness.”
With the figures for Alzheimer's currently estimated to be 30m people worldwide and expected to double each year, Lilly have particular high hopes for their research efforts in this area, including solanezumab, which is currently in phase III development to slow progression to the disease.
It's a research legacy that for Lilly goes back 20 years, with senior research advise Dr Michael O'Neill explaining that the company was keenly aware of the rising need for Alzheimer's treatments, due to improved lifestyles and therapies for other conditions meaning both developed and developing nations would experience aging populations.
Dr O'Neill explained how the company was tackling two targets in its attempts to treat the condition: amyloid plaque in the brain and 'tangles' of tau proteins found in neurons in the central nervous system, with a potential future treatment option a combination of therapies to tackle both targets at the same time.
This focus on neuroscience, when several other pharma companies are exiting what can be a high risk therapy area, was a “smart decision” according to Dale Edgar, a distinguished research fellow in neuroscience who has been with Lilly for five years.
To him, the latest developments in Surrey demonstrate that Lilly is committed to the business and not just paying “lip service” in its declared intention to understand what patients are going through and develop therapies based on a patient's needs and wants.
He also highlighted the company's Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN) as an advantage for the company in the UK, with its intention for industry to collaborate with a range of academics in neuroscience research.
The need for such academic partnerships also featured in Dr Lundberg's presentation.
He said: “Collaboration is absolutely essential to ensure innovative new medicines reach patients – and remember, we are all patients.”
“The sciences behind drug discovery is becoming more challenging – the search can seem never-ending but we must remember moves in modern medicines are often made incrementally in a series of small steps.”