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Lilly Patches Up Relationships in Seattle Biotech, Pushes TB Drug Discovery

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The organization announced this morning that it has acquired a pair of compounds for further development as drug candidates, from U.K-based Summit Plc and the Microbial Chemistry Research Foundation of Tokyo. CPZEN-45, from the Tokyo group, has shown activity against multi-drug resistant TB in mice, without any detectable side effects. That drug could be ready for clinical trials in two years, said Gail Cassell, vice president of scientific affairs at Lilly, during the press conference.

Of course, that’s just the beginning, she added. TB’s multiple strains make it too crafty to be knocked down by a single drug, so there will have to be several new products. When I asked about what the realistic time frame is for bringing these new products to the marketplace, Cassell didn’t make any firm promises, and cited some of the daunting old stats from the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development about how it usually costs $1 billion and takes 14 years or so to develop any new drug. That’s more money than Lilly or any company alone is going to commit, so it needs lots of partners, she says. Plus, with TB in particular, clinical trials take four to six years, so this clearly isn’t right around the corner.

“We need other partners to be successful,” she says.

Judging from my conversation with Kasecki before the press conference, Lilly’s work has gone a long way toward reducing the sting that the former Icosians felt when their company was carved up into little pieces the way a private equity firm would in a typical takeover. If Lilly keeps making smart investments like this, I’m guessing it will find some very talented scientists in Seattle happy to go to work with them on developing new TB drugs.

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