Even though Lilly’s R&D centre in Alcobendas only opened in 2002, R&D activity began at the site 35 years ago. The resilience and creativity of the highly qualified team of researchers who began operations allowed the company to build an R&D site that would go on to employ one hundred scientists. This anniversary affords us an opportunity to reflect on Lilly’s place in Spain and the research efforts we have been driving forward since 1984, as well as the forward steps that could be taken by the Spanish scientific community and health regulators to help foster even more success in the future.

In recent decades, thanks in part to the advancement of medical science, the development of new medicines has become even more challenging. Research timelines have increased, and so too has the volume of investment required. In fact, making a new drug available to patients in 2014 required an investment 13 times greater than what it took to develop a new drug in 1979.
Biomedical research is a long, complex and costly. Statistics tell us that for every new drug that can be discovered with the characteristics of efficacy and safety that it must have, another 10 thousand have been studied that have not gone ahead. Before a drug reaches the market, more than 2,400 million euros has been allocated to R&D, and 12-13 years have passed on average. These are figures that Spanish citizens are
not well aware of.

Long term Investment

Lilly is firmly rooted in Spain: we are fortunate to have one of the eight R&D centres that Lilly has around the world. Our researchers, mainly chemists and biologists, develop their research in the area of medical chemistry, biochemistry and cell biology, in a network with the rest of Lilly’s researchers around the world. Our €52 million annual investment in research at Alcobendas makes it the leading pharmaceutical research site in the country. That investment has, over the years, produced some wonderful successes in oncology, endocrinology and neuroscience.

Thanks to this economic and scientific investment, Lilly’s researchers in Spain are rewarded for their determination and daily effort to improve the lives of patients suffering from a disease. This year we are celebrating because our R&D colleagues have achieved something that very few scientists will be able to say throughout their professional career: their research has led to the development of a new medicine that is already available to patients with metastatic breast cancer.

Investment in R&D is crucial, but we need to continue to encourage excellent scientific and regulatory ecosystems in Spain for R&D to thrive. This requires an increase in public investment in R&D, which remains dwarfed by current investment from the private sector.

Supporting the scientific talent

First, we need scientific vocation. Good researchers, who question what is there and what they see, and who have the ambition to improve the current situation for patients. We collaborate with different initiatives, for example Research Prizes for PhD students in the areas of Organic, Pharmaceutical and Analytical Chemistry, or our participation in the CSF ComFuturo Program and the CSIC General Foundation to support capturing the best talent of young researchers.

Without a doubt, patients need great specialists in the area of consultation, who care about our individual, integral well-being, and who are up to date with the latest scientific news, as is the case in Spain. But more could be done to increase the pool of scientific talent in Spain, particularly by exploring ways to encourage more women to enter the field of scientific research.

Public-Private Collaboration

Second, we need to work together to advance basic and clinical research. In our research facility in Alcobendas we collaborate with the Universities of Oviedo and Santiago, in different preclinical research projects. We also collaborate with the CNIO, a research institute that we consider a strategic partner in oncology, and other partners in developing a project to identify and validate new targets in immuno-metabolism in cancer.

The clinical research carried out in Spanish hospitals is of the highest quality. But in addition to supporting the development of clinical research in Spain, having our R&D centre allows us to share basic science with healthcare professionals. As an example, we have an agreement with two hospitals in Madrid (the 12 de Octubre and Ramón y Cajal hospitals) to develop and validate cell trials with patient samples. Such public-private partnerships have been proven to produce great results but can be slow to be put in place. The Spanish research environment would benefit from greater agility from all partners in identifying and taking action on opportunities for collaboration.

Investment, talent and collaboration are the recipe for success in R&D. Since 1963, Alcobendas has been a node from which we have built relationships with public institutions, universities and hospitals in Spain, contributing positively to research, the scientific community and wider society. This was reinforced 35 years ago with the start of R&D activity. We are proud to be embedded in the Spanish landscape as a leader in pharmaceutical R&D. Looking to the future, Spanish and European policy makers need to continue to promote policies that foster biopharmaceutical R&D and encourage a society and health systems that value innovation to face the health challenges of today and tomorrow.

Here is to another 35 years of Lilly in Spain, more breakthroughs in the discovery of innovative medicines, and further development of Alcobendas as a linchpin of our global discovery efforts and key partner within the Spanish scientific network.