Eli Lilly has announced plans this morning to open a diabetes research centre in China, "where the incidence of the disease has reached epidemic proportions".

The centre, which will open in Shanghai in the second half of 2011, will initially employ 100 scientists and support staff, "the majority of whom will be hired from within China", the company stated. David Moller, head of endocrine and cardiovascular research and clinical investigation at Lilly, said that "given key differences in the molecular basis of diabetes in Chinese and other Asian populations, a major focus at this centrewill be on discovering therapies that target critical aspects of the disease."

Jan Lundberg, president of Lilly Research Laboratories, added that the Shanghai facility "will complement our existing network of collaborations in China and also will enable us to further gain the insights of China's talented scientists inside and outside of Lilly". The company quoted a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, 92 million people in China – almost 10 percent of the adult population – have diabetes, a number that is expected to increase in the coming decade "due in large part to longer life expectancy, dietary changes and lack of exercise".

No financial details were disclosed but Lilly noted that since the late 1990s, it has invested more than 2 billion renminbi (nearly $300 million) across its value chain in China. It is also the big pharma to have created a venture capital fund focused on the biopharmaceutical industry in China -  Lilly Asian Ventures has made six investments and deployed more than 250 million renminbi ($40 million) since being established in 2007.

Lilly added that it is working with the China Diabetes Society and the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes to support collaborative programmes between Chinese and European academic centres. It has committed 1.8 million euros over three years to the scheme.