NEW YORK-Eli Lilly and Co. is funding research of diabetes biomarkers through a $3 million grant to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).
"What they promise at the present time and will deliver to us will be $3 million to JDRF, over a three-year time period, $1 million a year," says Paul Burn, Ph.D., senior vice president, research, at JDRF. The program is called the JDRF-Lilly Innovative and Academic Research and Development Grants in Diabetes Biomarkers. Burn says the money will likely be disbursed using JDRF's established grant models, beginning with the Innovative Grants mechanism, which funds up to $110,000 over one year. Burn says JDRF plans to advertise specific opportunities to the research community beginning in January 2008.
All the Lilly money will fund research, not administration, in grants that Burn expects to go primarily to academic labs. He says JDRF adjusted its grantmaking philosophy over the last several years to fund early academic and proof-of-concept work, then help bring potential drugs into development through biotech companies and, later, facilitate interactions with pharmaceutical companies. The typical academic researcher, he stressed, is focused on publication, "but it's not in his job description to generate the next drug to cure a patient."
JDRF's concept has already moved two anti-CD3 monoclonal antibodies from academic research into two biotechs, MacroGenics and Tolerx, which have concluded deals with, respectively, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline.
The JDRF-Lilly grants, says Burn, are only a first step on biomarkers. "The main focus on the proposal is research to help to identify biomarkers in the first place," with the goal of jumpstarting the discovery of diabetes biomarkers. Once biomarkers are identified, they'll need to be validated and developed as tools for broader use. "Biomarkers are just a tool or a means to actually help us in the future to develop drugs faster or in a better way," says Burn.
The biomarker research will focus on pancreatic beta cell mass and function, an area where Burn says JDRF and Lilly share common ground. David Moller, vice president, endocrine and cardiovascular research and clinical investigation, Lilly Research Laboratories, cites beta cell mass and function as key determinants of susceptibility and progression for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
"In a research context," says Moller, "endogenous insulin or C-peptide (a fragment of the insulin precursor) can be measured as a crude way of determining beta cell function. However, more precise ways of assessing beta cell mass and function are critical needs for identifying and developing novel therapies that target beta cell survival, beta cell regeneration and beta cell dysfunction."
Those aspects of beta cells dovetail with JDRF's research areas: autoimmunity, diabetes complications, metabolic control, and beta cell regeneration and replacement. Burn says JDRF will simultaneously support additional biomarker research, increasing the value of the JDRF-Lilly program through matching funds. JDRF in 2007 funded research in 20 countries through 700 centers, grants, and fellowships totaling more than $137 million.
Vince Mihalik, Lilly's vice president for global brand development, diabetes, obesity and endocrine, recognizes JDRF's and Lilly's shared interests, too. "We applaud and support JDRF's commitment to find a cure for this disease-that's the ultimate goal of diabetes research-and we're particularly passionate about these new research grants because they bring our missions together: JDRF's work for a cure and Lilly's commitment to innovative science that improves outcomes for patients."