News Brief: NCATS and Eli Lilly Collaborate to Bridge Cultural, Research Divide

H. Clay Conner in front of Eli Lilly research labThe space between academia and industry research is often referred to as the great divide in translational science. Not only are there different laboratory environments and cultures, historically there has not been much opportunity for those in these separate sectors to interact with each other.

Seeking to help scientists bridge the gap, NCATS is partnering with Eli Lilly and Company on the NCATS-Eli Lilly scholars externship program. The effort, which pairs scholars, trainees and investigators from NCATS’ Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program with an Eli Lilly project team for up to one year, is based at Eli Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis.

NCATS and Eli Lilly designed the program to be a fully immersive experience that enhances collaboration between academic researchers and industry scientists and trains participants in the techniques and principles of translational research. Two inaugural scholars completed their externships last winter and found the experience invaluable.

H. Clay Conner, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Notre Dame, a member institution of the Indiana Clinical and Translational Science Institute, completed his externship in the Eli Lilly pharmacology department. He examined animal models used to test drugs for type 2 diabetes. Since the animals don’t naturally develop diabetes, each model represents a unique aspect of the human disease. He analyzed large amounts of data in animals and humans to determine which models were best for testing different classes of diabetes drugs.

“In academia, after our research is published, we don’t always know who takes it from there and how it ends up in the clinic,” Conner said. “During the externship, I worked with industry scientists who spend all their time developing a drug, and I saw how translation from bench to bedside really happens.”

Ju Youn “Valerie” Kim, Ph.D., a clinical research scholar in the Weill Cornell Clinical and Translational Science Center in New York, worked with regulatory affairs professionals at Eli Lilly. She studied the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process for oncology drugs to learn more about issues including scientific data criteria needed to support changes in how drugs are administered. Kim also participated in mock FDA meetings and real-world discussions with the FDA on potential investigational new drug applications, which are needed to test a new drug in clinical trials. She enjoyed applying her analytical skills to scientific and business questions, as well as the team-oriented approach of the global regulatory affairs department.

“Working collectively with other regulatory scientists was an incredible experience,” Kim said. “The environment in the company was collaborative and synergistic.”

Both participants found their Eli Lilly experiences to be extremely helpful to their careers, and emerged with a deeper appreciation for how academic-industry collaborations can help translate scientific discoveries into patient benefit. The 2017 Eli Lilly participants will be selected soon and begin this summer. Find out more about the externship program here

Posted June 2017