In a report published in 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that global actions and investments to end the tuberculosis epidemic are falling far short. That’s why it’s more important than ever to develop new drugs for this age-old killer. With additional funding over the next five years from Eli Lilly and Company, scientists in IDRI’s drug discovery program are taking on this challenge.

Photo of IDRI labs
Members of IDRI’s TB Drug Discovery group are working towards developing new drugs.

The new funding from Lilly marks the continuation of a long-standing partnership between IDRI and Eli Lilly, which started more than eight years ago with the founding of the Lilly Drug Discovery Initiative, a unique public-private partnership that includes IDRI, Lilly and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a focus on the discovery of new anti-tuberculosis drugs.  The funding from Lilly includes $7.5 million in additional funding, plus an additional $7.5 million of in-kind services, for a total commitment of $15 million over the next five years. The funding and in-kind services, which includes Lilly scientists’ time and engagement on projects as well as Lilly research and development resources and capabilities, extend the work of the Lilly Initiative.

“Our focus now is on moving new chemical entities to lead optimization with the intent to have at least one preclinical drug candidate,” said Tanya Parish, Ph.D., IDRI’s Vice President of Drug Discovery. “Being part of the Lilly Initiative has helped us move through the phases of the traditional drug development ‘funnel,’ from hit evaluation to formal hit assessment, then hits to leads followed by lead optimization.”

The Lilly Initiative’s initial funding helped set up the foundation of IDRI’s Discovery Program – personnel, equipment and specialized lab facilities – followed by the screening of compounds provided by Lilly, which was unique at the time. “The partnership marked one of the first times a large pharmaceutical company opened its compound library to an outside entity,” said Parish. “We began screening those compounds to find out if there was potential for TB drugs; to date, we’ve screened more than 500,000 compounds.”

From there, Parish’s group moved into evaluation and the TB Drug Accelerator (TBDA) was started, which led to additional screening. The TBDA is a partnership of eight pharmaceutical companies, including Lilly, and four other institutions funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that targets the discovery of new TB drugs by collaborating on early-stage drug discovery for tuberculosis. According to Parish, the Lilly initiative and the TBDA are important, productive and complimentary programs that move TB drug discovery forward.

“This partnership with Lilly has expanded over the years,” said Parish. “Not only do they provide financial and scientific resources, but people as well. We work together as one team with common goals, using our individual areas of expertise; for Lilly that’s proven success in the field of drug discovery and for IDRI it is in-depth knowledge of tuberculosis.”