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Eli Lilly Commits $15M More to Seattle Institute’s TB Drug Search

Xconomy Indiana — 

Eli Lilly unveiled plans today to expand its work treating disease in the developing world, pledging $90 million to improve access to healthcare for 30 million people worldwide by 2030.

Nestled in Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly’s (NYSE: LLY) plan is $15 million earmarked for the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle. Though that sum is a small piece of Lilly’s overall $90 million commitment, it’s the company’s largest financial pledge to date in an eight-year partnership with the Seattle institute researching new tuberculosis drugs.

Tuberculosis is a highly contagious bacterial infection affecting the lungs. Of the 10.4 million people infected by the disease in 2015, 1.8 million died, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO lists TB as one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, with the overwhelming majority of those deaths occurring in the developing world.

TB is typically treated with antibiotics. The challenge with this standard of care is the emergence of drug resistant TB strains, the IDRI told Xconomy in 2008. The institute has been researching drug candidates that show activity against drug-resistant strains of TB. So far, those efforts are still in preclinical studies.

Immunologist Steve Reed founded the nonprofit IDRI in 1993. A mix of public, private, and nonprofit money funds the institute, which has a $22.5 million budget this year. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a longtime backer of IDRI; besides Lilly, the institute also counts GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) as a pharma industry supporter.

Lilly began its collaboration with the IDRI following its 2007 acquisition of Bothell, WA-based drug developer Icos for about $2.3 billion. The pharma giant then donated to the institute $9 million worth of Icos drug-screening equipment it no longer needed along with another $6 million in cash. This partnership with IDRI, called the Lilly TB Drug Discovery Initiative, also hired some former Icos scientists. The initiative’s search for potential TB drug candidates started by screening compounds from Lilly as well as Merck (NYSE: MRK). In 2011, Lilly committed another $4.2 million to support the IDRI’s TB drug research.

Eli Lilly is splitting the $90 million, five-year commitment to its “Global Health Partnership” evenly between company dollars and Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, its philanthropic arm. Lilly CEO John Leichleiter says the funding slated for the IDRI will be used to continue the institute’s TB drug discovery and development efforts. He adds that the $90 million Global Health Initiative builds on two Lilly corporate efforts already underway: a $170 million collaboration with drug manufacturers started in 2003 to increase the availability of antibiotics in countries that have high rates of TB; and a $30 million commitment in 2011 to address the rise of non-communicable diseases in developing countries. The latter partnership, which initially focused on diabetes, is now adding cancer as an area of therapeutic focus.

Lilly says the partnership will work toward the company’s goal of improving the health of 30 million people by expanding its efforts and its partners in Brazil, China, India, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and the United States. Community partners have not been finalized, but in Lilly’s hometown, the company plans to work with local public health officials.