Eli Lilly has stepped up its already enthusiastic commitment to China as a research base, this time through a partnership with the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes (EFSD) and the Chinese Diabetes Society (CDS).

The US company is putting €1.8 million into the partnership programme, which will promote collaborative diabetes research between Europe and China. Lilly’s contribution will pay for an EASD post-graduate course and a number of EFSD research grants each year as part of a “long-term funding relationship”, the partners said. The programme is also designed to raise public awareness of the burden of diabetes.

Due to its population size and accelerated economic development, China has the potential to suffer more than any other country from the current epidemic of diabetes worldwide, the partners noted. The number of diabetics in China is projected to rise from 39 million in 2007 to an estimated 56 million in 2005. These figures “clearly show that rapid action is needed to investigate therapeutic solutions to meet the needs of millions of patients in our country,” commented CDS president Yang Wen Ying.

Professor Ele Ferrannini, president of EASD and EFSD, said it was crucial to look beyond Europe in seeking a deeper understanding of diabetes. “We believe that this partnership prepares the ground to rapidly diffuse acquired knowledge and to facilitate its application in [China] as well as benefit our global understanding of the disease,” he added.

Eli Lilly has an existing relationship with the EFSD through the company’s funding of the EFSD/Lily Diabetes Research Programme in Europe. Programme funds totalling €1 million were allocated during 2003-05 and a further €1.2 million has been made available for research grants in 2006-08.

The US company has also been an energetic player in the Chinese market since it set up a production facility in Shanghai 11 years ago. A research facility followed, established under a research and co-operation agreement signed with local company Shanghai ChemExplorer in June 2002. More recently, Lily entered into partnership with Hutchison MedPharma, a subsidiary of Shanghai-based Chi-Med, to discover and develop anticancer and anti-inflammatory drugs.

The announcement was the latest of a spate of research investments in China by pharmaceutical multinationals such as Sanofi-Aventis, AstraZeneca, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline. Lily has made clear its desire to be in the vanguard of this trend, as the company looks to promote China into the top ranks of its sales territories worldwide. According to Reuters, Lilly’s local sales are already increasing at around 26% a year, compared with 16% growth for the whole of the pharmaceutical market in China.