University of Cambridge Joins Eli Lilly’s “Open Innovation Drug Discovery Platform”

The University of Cambridge has partnered up with global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company in an active collaboration programme helping to find and develop potential new medicines, particularly in the areas of greatest need. Gianluigi Cuccureddu comments on the challenges and possibilities of the initiative.

Next to the University of Cambridge over 60 European institutions have so far joined the initiative, according to the press release. The Open Innovation Drug Discovery Platform (OIDD) “aims to foster top talent in medical discovery, catering for the significant challenges researchers face in the current environment across Europe. The project is designed to tackle barriers to innovation, where cost-pressures, cutbacks and lack of resource pose risks to ongoing research and development,”

Alan D Palkowitz, PhD, vice president of discovery chemistry research and technologies, Lilly, said:

“I think of Open Innovation Drug Discovery as a platform consisting of multiple superhighways all pointed towards the final destination of discovering novel medicines that we believe have the potential to improve patients’ lives. These superhighways connect scientists from all over the world with Lilly, for the common goal of finding new treatments for diseases where patients are in need and looking for answers, such as cancer, diabetes and MDR-TB (multi-drug resistant tuberculosis).”

Dr Emma Barker of Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation group, which will manage the agreement, said:

“This programme has the potential to provide important short and longer-term benefits to Cambridge researchers. The access to Lilly’s sophisticated in vitro model systems, as well as the potential for future collaborations and licenses with the goal of discovering new therapeutics, makes these types of initiatives very important.”


As the website of the Open Innovation Drug Discovery Platform mentions, it provides a place for idea-sharing. It lowers “the barrier for collaborations between investigators working inside and outside an organization. Free exchange of ideas between investigators across traditionally impregnable organizational walls contributes to the advancement of Science.”

Highlights of the Open Innovation Drug Discovery program:

  • Lilly provides no-cost access to internal assay panel for external investigators in therapeutic areas of strategic interest
  • Screening panel includes phenotypic disease-relevant assays (PD2) as well as selected target-based assays (TargetD2)
  • Use of Lilly state-of-the-art computational tools for structure design available to participants
  • Confidential compound submission via web-based interface
  • Full data report provided to investigator
  • Promising findings can serve as basis for a collaboration agreement
  • Participants may have the additional option to participate in the Lilly TB Drug Discovery Initiative

Lily’s goal

Lilly is dedicated to the goal of becoming part of a Fully Integrated Pharmaceutical Network (FIPNet). A key part of this transformation is to expand the level of collaborative research with universities, institutes, and biotech to fuel innovative discovery.

Thoughts – broadening the open innovation scope

It would be interesting to learn how far the open innovation reaches. What about active knowledge- and partner discovery through all the available data online?

What about providing an iterative comparison between internal available knowledge and external knowledge, exposing gaps and the opportunity to collaborate with the entitities with the missing knowledge?

Thoughts – strategic planning

A second advantage of this iterative comparison between internal (within the platform) and external data is for the purpose of strategic planning. As this section on the website mentions, the drug discovery process at Lilly begins by focusing on specific diseases and patient needs. By continuously understanding societies’ anxieties and mirroring them with internal goals, strategic planning can be adapted effectively.

Thoughts – knowledge accessibility and valorization

From the OIDD platform point of perspective, it would be interesting to learn how 60+ institutions are effectively leveraging the knowledge assets available within the complete platform?

Having a platform is one thing, efficiently and effectively retrieving mission-critical knowledge is a second. Availability is useless if it cannot be found and retrieved and there are high costs along with not finding it as well studied and quantified by this IDC research. This is exactly where and how social technologies transform organizations and collaboration. Each goal needs a different enabler and infrastructure.

Whereas strategic planning can be enhanced by an excellence platform aggregating all data, a technology as InnerTeams enables instant, personal and relevant matching between knowledge and people. Outcomes are speeding-up processes, lowering the costs of not finding the right knowledge at the right time and being a technology that is viable in global collaborative environments.

What do you think of the Open Innovation Drug Discovery Platform?

By Gianluigi Cuccureddu

About the author:

Gianluigi CuccuredduGianluigi Cuccureddu, contributing editor, is an experienced writer specializing in innovation, open business, new media and marketing. He is also Managing Partner of the 90:10 Group, a global Open Business consultancy, which helps clients open their activity directly and indirectly to external stakeholders through the use of social media, its data and technologies for the purpose of competitive advantages in marketing, service- and product innovation.