Eli Lilly Pumps $4M into IDRI to Continue Hunt for TB Drugs

Xconomy Seattle — 

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly is increasing its bet on a small team of TB drug hunters in Seattle.

Indianapolis-based Lilly (NYSE: LLY) said today it has agreed to provide $4.2 million over the next four and a half years to the Seattle-based Infectious Disease Research Institute to continue its efforts to discover drugs for tuberculosis.

The research support is the latest step in Lilly’s efforts to support TB drug development, which started in 2007. That was when Lilly acquired Bothell, WA-based Icos for its hit erectile dysfunction drug, and found that it didn’t really want the scientists or cutting-edge drug discovery equipment that was at the core of the biotech company. So a team of former Icos scientists—Ed Kesicki, Allen Casey and Joshua Odingo—migrated to IDRI to pursue their interest in TB in collaboration with Tanya Parrish. Lilly donated $9 million worth of Icos’s drug screening equipment, joined Merck in donating hundreds of thousands of potential TB drug candidates from proprietary chemical libraries, and agreed to fork over $6 million in cash over five years to support the Lilly TB Drug Discovery Initiative.

Tuberculosis, an airborne infectious lung disease, has never been much of a priority of the pharmaceutical industry since it was largely eradicated from wealthy countries like the U.S. decades ago. But the World Health Organization estimates that 1.7 million died from TB in 2009, with most of the cases in Southeast Asia and Africa. Currently used TB drugs were developed more than 40 years ago, Lilly says, and about half a million people a year now develop cases that resist drugs that used to be effective.

The Lilly TB Drug Discovery Initiative, which includes philanthropies and government agencies as well as IDRI, doesn’t appear to have yet delivered a new TB drug candidate into clinical trials. Today’s statement didn’t say what the goals are for the next phase of the program.

As it so happens, Lilly CEO John Lechleiter will be in Bellevue, WA tomorrow to give a keynote talk at the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association’s annual meeting. I plan to interview Lechleiter while he’s in town, and will ask about the local TB efforts. If you have other questions you’d like to pose to him, just send me a note at [email protected]