Eli Lilly has underlined its commitment to the UK as a research base, and to neuroscience research in particular, by opening new early-stage facilities at its Erl Wood R&D centre in Surrey.

The company has invested £5.4 million in the new building, which will house some 130 clinical development scientists working across disciplines such as clinical pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, pharmnacodynamics, statistics and data sciences.

They will handle molecules across the range of Lilly’s R&D portfolio, which encompasses neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, depression and schizophrenia, as well as oncology, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.

Erl Wood originally opened in 1967 as Lilly’s first R&D centre outside the US. It is now the company’s second largest research operation outside Indianapolis in the US, with a staff of 650 in total covering some 35 different functions including drug discovery, early- and late-phase development, regulatory and legal affairs and pharmacovigilance.

The new facilities, which were formally opened by fertility pioneer Professor Lord Winston along with Dr Jan Lundberg, executive vice president, science and technology, and president of Lilly Research Laboratories, take Lilly’s investment in the Erl Wood site over the last decade to more than £100 million.

‘Great place’ for research

At the opening ceremony, Lundberg insisted the UK remained a “great place” to do biomedical research, citing its stable pricing and reimbursement systems but also emphasising the importance of incremental advances in biopharmaceuticals and the need to take a broad view of innovation.

The sector received a warm endorsement from Lord Winston, who said it was hard to think of “a more important or more misunderstood” industry in the UK while bemoaning the hostile sentiment that has muddied activities such as animal research and vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella.

Neuroscience is a particular area of focus at Erl Wood, both internally and through academic collaborations such as the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, which brings together scientists from Lilly and the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and Cambridge as well as King’s College London and the National University of Ireland at Maynooth.  

According to the company, the UK’s “world-class” reputation in the field was a major factor in its decision to make Erl Wood a research centre for neuroscience – a strategy that spawned Lilly’s most successful medicine, the antipsychotic olanzapine (Zyprexa).

Hub of activity

Geographically, the site is at the hub of neuroscience activity, with 75% of UK research in the field and more than 30% of neuroscience research in the European Union, expressed in the form of published literature from academia, coming from within 150 miles of Erl Wood, the company noted.

Around 50% of Lilly’s research efforts against Alzheimer’s disease are concentrated at the UK site.