Richard DiMarchi has been working in the pharmaceutical industry longer than genomics has even been around. But that experience has given him an interesting perspective — looking at the growing field from within its ultimate dream customer, big pharma.
And now that he’s retiring from his post as group vice president for Lilly Research Laboratories and heading to Indiana University in Bloomington to be a tenured professor, he’ll be taking on the integration of genomics in a faster-paced environment.
DiMarchi spent 23 years at Lilly, which he joined after leaving Rockefeller University to help with the “insulin challenge”: developing the first recombinant DNA product. “I could see that biosynthesis was going to provide us a commercial engine for producing these things in large scale.” He has since been involved in developing some half-a-dozen recombinant DNA products and brought in high-throughput screening as well as genomics for rational drug design.
At 50, DiMarchi is ready for a new challenge. “The attraction of working in a less structured, more entrepreneurial environment was very appealing,” he says. He will continue his work studying structure activity, hoping to solve the drug transport problem that prevents proper absorption of large molecules. That could very well piggyback on genomics-based advances in recent years. “Through genomics we have a much better grasp of what the drug transporters are,” he says. “This field is just emerging.” DiMarchi also sees the possibility for startup opportunities from his own research.
IU is best known in the field for its $150-million-plus genomics initiative funded by the Lilly Endowment. DiMarchi isn’t a part of the initiative, but has a mandate to explore collaboration opportunities between the Bloomington campus and the Indianapolis-based medical center for the program.
Meanwhile, he doesn’t mind giving advice to all those in genomics trying to get in pharma’s back door. First things first: Don’t expect to sell off-the-shelf, and stick to problems in the here and now. “If you’re going to be successful in consummating these deals, you have to be an incredibly good listener,” DiMarchi says, “and then quite flexible in adapting your technology to solve a problem that pharma is struggling with.”
— Fingerprints by Meredith Salisbury