50 years uniting care with discovery

Today’s guest blog comes from Mike Hutton, Chief Scientific Officer, Neurodegeneration, Eli Lilly and Company

It’s often said that R&D in the pharmaceutical sector is a complex and long term undertaking. The Lilly Research Centre in Erl Wood is living proof of this in my view.  It’s hard to believe in fact that we are currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of Erl Wood, Lilly’s largest research facility outside of the US.  Since 1967, Erl Wood has become the company’s global centre for neuroscience, with a particular focus and expertise on the discovery of disease modifying therapies for Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, it’s a concrete testament to Lilly’s overall long-standing commitment to the discovery of new medicines to help people live better lives. More than 650 people, representing 50 different nationalities, and 30 different functional disciplines work at Erl Wood on both the discovery and development of potential new medicines.

A passion for the human brain

The labs at Erl Wood have been brimming with passion for a better understanding of the human brain, and demonstrating resilience in the face of challenges. The teams here at Erl Wood continue the quest to find new medicines for neurodegenerative disorders, cognitive diseases and pain.  Lilly’s 30-year commitment to finding a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease is an example of this long haul commitment.

Life sciences hot spot for key collaborations

Our location has been a key factor for us in this effort, as collaborative partnerships are such a crucial component to our approach. Britain is a world-leader in life sciences, and we’re situated in a particular hot spot of this expertise, with world-leading academic and biotech centres such as Oxford, London and Cambridge nearby. We work in partnership with these groups on research projects as well as supporting Ph.D student and post-doctoral training. But we don’t just keep it local either though - at both the national and European level we are collaborating through Public –Private Consortia such as the UK Dementia Consortium and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) on EPAD, MOPEAD and ROADMAP.

Our commitment to invest

In the last 10 years, we have spent more than £1.1 billion on R&D and invested £85 million into the research centre. For this investment to continue, and for the next generation of biomedical discovery to flourish, it is essential to continue to have the right environment and incentives in place. Stability and predictability are of the utmost importance: when a team of researchers spends decades developing potential new treatments in the face of uncertainty and setbacks, we need to ensure their innovation is encouraged and recognized, driving forward the next frontier of research. This is relevant to all aspects of the medicine development process, from the wider business environment to a reliable pricing system; patient access and a system that rewards companies’ high risk investment in R&D through the ongoing provision of IP incentives and awards.

As we look ahead, the choppy political environment here in the UK and the unknowns of Brexit bring uncertainties to a broad range of issues specific to health, such as participation in EU research programmes, conducting clinical trials and accessing data across borders, and retaining the UK’s place in EU-wide regulatory systems for human and veterinary medicines. Our history, our people and our collaborations here at Erl Wood are going to be central to how we work together with stakeholders across the health spectrum to ensure at we continue to be a leader in R&D for the next 50 years.


Lilly Research Centre in Erl Wood: Before and after, 50 years on