Eli Lilly has officially opened its R&D research centre in Shanghai which will focus on discovering diabetes medicines with novel mechanisms of action that can be tailored specifically for the Chinese population.

The company notes that diabetes affects nearly 90 million Chinese, and much of the research at the new centre will exploring the genetic profiles of Chinese, and eventually Asian, people. For example, Chinese people with diabetes have a significantly lower average body mass index than Americans and they also tend to have a higher prevalence of abdominal obesity, fatty liver and insulin resistance than non-Asians with the disease. Research to better understand these characteristics may offer opportunities for discovering new medicines to treat diabetes.

Bei Betty Zhang, head of the new facility, noted that diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in China, with as many as three-quarters of patients not having adequate control of their disease. She added that "the research community needs to better understand the genetic and environmental factors that underlie this epidemic". Lilly's R&D chief Jan Lundberg said the firm will be looking at diabetes "in new and different ways and through collaborations with local academic research centres and partners that enable us to link Lilly scientists with scientists in China".

New deal with Covance

Lilly, which is currently constructing an insulin production, packaging and warehouse facility in Suzhou that is expected to open this year, has also signed a new agreement to establish a diabetes discovery collaboration  in China with long-term partner Covance.

Covance will provide the new R&D centre in Shanghai with a range of services, including pharmacology studies, pharmacokinetic screening and other preclinical research.