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Lilly Pins Drug Discovery Hopes on Systems Biology with Singapore-Based R&D Center

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In a sign that systems biology is moving into the mainstream, Eli Lilly and Co. said last week it plans to build an R&D center in Singapore devoted to studying whole biological systems.

The planned Lilly Center for Systems Biology (CSB) will be partly supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board’s $600 million R&D fund, which was initiated in June 2000 to promote private biomedical R&D efforts in the region.

Lilly plans to have the center up and running by the first quarter of 2002 and expects to spend $140 million on research there over a five-year period.

Systems biology, which depends heavily on recent advances in bioinformatics to simultaneously study the biological pathways that govern physiology and disease, is “new for us,” admitted a Lilly spokeswoman.

But that hasn’t dampened the company’s expectations for the field’s promise in terms of drug discovery. In a statement announcing the center, Thomas Bumol, vice president of research technologies and proteins at Lilly, called systems biology a “new paradigm” that will be “essential for innovation in drug development.”

August Watanabe, executive vice president of science and technology for Lilly, echoed Bumol’s zeal, saying, “Advanced bioinformatic approaches, such as the ones to be used at the CSB, will be the key to accelerating drug discovery and development.” However, Lillly spokeswoman Kindra Antey said it was still “too early” to disclose the technology Lilly intends to use at the center, or whether it would be developed by Lilly or acquired from other vendors.

Researchers at the center will first study the endothelial system, Antey noted, and will expand into additional systems over the next five years.

Lilly will hire 50 scientists and information technology specialists for the CSB. Antey said the Singapore locale would give Lilly, which is based in Indianapolis, access to “very talented scientists that are in that region,” in addition to the economic incentive provided by the EDB.

Lilly also runs a clinical pharmacology center in Singapore, which is a joint venture with the National Science and Technology Board and the National University of Singapore. Lilly said it expects the CSB to complement current research efforts at the clinical pharmacology center.

The CSB will also be linked to Lilly research facilities in approximately 70 countries, where related work will be performed, Antey said. However, it has a “unique mission” compared to Lilly’s other research efforts.

— BT

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