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Interview: Jan Lundberg, Eli Lilly

We talk to Jan Lundberg, executive VP, science and technology, and president, Lilly Research Laboratories

Jan Lundberg - Eli LillyCommenting on Eli Lilly & Co's recent plans to launch an academically-focused R&D plan across Europe, president of Lilly Research Laboratories, Dr Jan Lundberg said: “You can say this could be the worst time for the pharma industry; it's also the best time for science and innovation and understanding of disease for the future.”

It was an intriguing remark about the kind of environment that inspires those breakthrough discoveries from a man who has dedicated much of his career to finding out what the next step will be in pharmaceutical research.

This has included ten years at AstraZeneca (AZ) as head of global discovery research, before taking over from Dr Steven Paul at Lilly in 2010.

That mindset of innovation, especially on an open, collaborative platform, is one he thinks his current employers share, however.

“We have a strong history of innovation, referring back to our insulin commercialisation in the 1920s with Toronto University,” he stated.

“We want to continue to build on our academic partnerships and collaborate with our external environment in a variety of ways.”

It is an ethos reflected in the company's most recent European plans, but it is also something that is held in all aspects of the firm's attitude to research, according to Lundberg, especially in the customarily robust areas of research: Europe and the US.

“We have a strong tradition of pharma research in these areas and we also recognise that Europe is going to continue, we hope, to be important, with governmental efforts and very innovation supportive regulatory requirements for new products.

“We should utilise that platform and build for the future in Europe, realising that with the ageing population, there is going to be an increased healthcare need and a very big requirement to intervene early with ageing diseases such as Alzheimer's or diabetes or cancer to have a better treatment response and so reduce the huge cost caregivers face in dealing with ageing problems.”

These priorities could be seen in Lilly's own development plans, Lundberg continued, stating that the company had three products each in development for cancers and neuroscience conditions such as Alzheimer's, as well as four agents for diabetes and two for autoimmune conditions.

Singling out neuroscience as a key healthcare issue, considering the economic and social burden if Alzheimer's remains without a suitable treatment, Lundberg affirmed: “Our commitment to neuroscience is long-term and not based on each individual agent and the outcomes, so in the Alzheimer's area we have not only a monoclonal antibody, which is given as an intravenous infusion, but also an oral agent to implant the amyloid pathway that is planned to go into phase II  this year.

“We also have an upcoming diagnostic opportunity in Alzheimer's: an imaging agent that can be used to detect amyloid plaque in the living human brain, which is very important if you want to step in earlier in treating a disease.

Lundberg is no stranger to key discoveries, however, being instrumental in delivering more than 150 drug candidates across a variety of therapy areas to the company's pipeline during his time at AZ.

And although he may have been responsible for numerous licensing deals at AZ, as well as championing Lilly's approach to collaborative research, Lundberg is still keen to reaffirm the strength of the company's own internal team.

“We feel we are very competitive in our approach and in fact if you look at our 12 phase III molecules, 11 of them have come from our internal labs. That is a high level. Certainly we always connect with the external environment at various stages of the R&D value chain.”

Research is not everything, though, with Lundberg commenting on the hotly debated topic of innovative medicines reaching patients quickly: “I think it's notable we have a productive R&D organisation, but we need to cross the finish line with our molecules and deliver them to patients in a timely way.”

The Interviewer
Tom Meek, web editor at PMLiVE

28th March 2012

From: Research

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