Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) has completed a $90 million expansion of its biotechnology R&D center in San Diego, added new automated synthesis equipment, and plans to build out its next-generation chemistry capabilities here over the next two years.
The new facility adds 180,000 square feet of space to Lilly’s laboratory in La Jolla—a 145 percent increase for the site. The expansion features a soaring architectural façade intended to resemble DNA molecules during gel electrophoresis. During a dedication ceremony of the revamped facility Wednesday, David Ricks, chairman and CEO of the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant, said the project is part of the $850 million capital spending plan that Lilly announced earlier this year.
“This new space will help foster and accelerate the discovery and development of medicines within Lilly’s core therapeutic areas of immunology, diabetes, oncology, and neurodegeneration [particularly in Alzheimer’s disease], as well as our emerging areas of pain,” said Tom Bumol, who oversees the San Diego site as Lilly’s senior vice president of biotechnology and immunology research.
Bumol said he has been part of the life sciences community in San Diego since Lilly acquired Applied Molecular Evolution in 2004 for roughly $400 million. The company later combined AME’s operations with SGX Pharmaceuticals, another San Diego biotech Lilly acquired in 2009 for $64 million.
The expansion will add new capabilities in small-molecule drug development to the lab’s existing expertise in biological drug development, Bumol said. The San Diego lab engineered the DNA for Ixekizumab (Taltz), an injectable monoclonal antibody drug that won FDA approval in March 2016 for treating psoriasis.
“Several of Lilly’s current products and many of the new molecular entities in our research pipeline are biologics,” Bumol said. “Almost 60 percent of those molecules have been touched by the scientists and technology in our San Diego labs. As an example, another investigational molecule designed here, galcanezumab for migraine prevention, just finished three successful Phase 3 studies.” The company is now planning to file for FDA approval.
The expanded facility also has the Lilly Life Science Studio, which includes equipment needed in automated organic synthesis for new chemical entities. The studio will enable researchers across the globe to remotely design, synthesize, and screen investigational molecules, using robotic equipment that can be programmed to run experiments overnight.
Today, Lilly’s San Diego lab has about 210 employees, and Bumol said he is looking to fill 30 or so openings this year. With the laboratory expansion, the facility can now accommodate 400 workers Bumol said.