NIH and Lilly Collaborate, Aim to Make Drug Development Pipelines More Productive

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Over the past decade, collaborative research efforts to support the discovery and development of medicines has increased dramatically. Last month, the National Institutes of Health and Eli Lilly and Company announced a new collaboration: they will generate a publicly available resource to profile the effects of thousands of approved and investigational medicines in a variety of advanced disease-relevant testing systems [1]. In-depth knowledge of the biological profiles of these medicines may enable researchers to better predict treatment outcomes, improve drug development, and lead to more specific and effective approaches.

NCATS/Lilly collaboration

The NIH’s newly established National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and Lilly Research Laboratories have agreed that NCATS’ Pharmaceutical Collection of 3,800 approved and investigational medicines will be screened using Lilly’s state-of-the-art Phenotypic Drug Discovery (PD2) panel [2].

Unlike gene-specific assays (i.e. tests), the PD2 panel features assays that interrogate multiple molecular targets and signaling pathways, which may reveal novel functions and discover new pathways of therapeutic value for investigational and, as part of the collaboration, approved medicines. The goal is to provide new insights for effective drug discovery.

NCATS Acting Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. said [1]:

This innovative collaboration with Lilly is exactly the type of partnership that NCATS is eager to foster with many other groups from industry, government and academia. Working together, we can make drug development pipelines more productive. The key is precompetitive collaboration to benefit all partners, ensuring broad access to the results.

The NCATS Pharmaceutical Collection (NPC) is an extensive publicly available collection of approved and investigational drugs. The PD2 assay panel, part of Lilly’s Open Innovation Drug Discovery initiative — a platform for idea-sharing within a network of academic and biotech investigators by providing  access to proprietary, disease-relevant phenotypic assays — consists of complex human disease pathway-related tests relevant to many diseases, including endocrine disorders, cardiovascular disorders, neurological disorders and cancer. These tests are  designed to reveal novel mechanisms or pathway activities of drugs.

Alan D. Palkowitz, Ph.D., vice president of discovery chemistry research and technologies at Lilly, said [1]:

This initiative is a great example of how we can collectively leverage unique capabilities from the public and private sectors toward our shared goal of advancing science and improving patients’ lives. It also attests to the importance of collaborative research because, despite major advances in biomedical science, much work remains to be done.

Drug screening will take place over the next 12 to 18 months, and results will be made freely available at

If an approved medicine is found to be a potential candidate for a new disease indication, a partnership between Lilly and the organization that owns the chemical compound could be formed to pursue additional studies such as clinical trials required for marketing approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Alternatively, medicines with activity in the PD2 assays might serve as starting points for additional chemistry research efforts to produce new medicines.

Translational research transforms scientific discoveries arising from laboratory and preclinical studies into the development of trials and studies in humans. Currently, many costly, time-consuming bottlenecks exist in the drug development translational pipeline. NCATS serves as the nation’s hub for catalyzing innovations in translational science. Working in partnership with the public and private sectors, NCATS strives to develop innovative ways to reduce, remove or bypass these bottlenecks to speed the delivery of new drugs, diagnostics and medical devices to patients.


  1. NIH and Lilly to generate public resource of approved and investigational medicines. EurekAlert! 2012 Mar 13.
  2. Lee et al. Open innovation for phenotypic drug discovery: The PD2 assay panel. J Biomol Screen. 2011 Jul;16(6):588-602. Epub 2011 Apr 26.
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About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.