Eli Lilly is making a “multi-million dollar” investment in its biotechnology capabilities to support research and development of ‘multi-specific’ therapeutics, where two or more distinct mechanisms of action are engineered into a single molecule to improve efficacy and safety.

Exactly how much Lilly is ploughing into these biotech efforts is not known, but the initiative involves hiring additional biochemists and biologists at the company’s US biotechnology facilities in Indianapolis and San Diego, US – around 40 in total, according to local reports.

Tom Bumol, Lilly’s vice president of biotechnology discovery research, cited diabetes and oncology as therapeutic areas in which patients needed more than one medicine to manage their disease.

“With our extensive biologics experience, we can now engineer new therapies where one medicine essentially provides the benefit of two,” he said. “This could produce real benefits for patients, healthcare professionals and payors.” 

Preclinical compounds

Lilly already has a number of multi-specific therapeutics in preclinical development, including a co-agonist peptide being looked at as a potential treatment for diabetes. This compound is expected to enter clinical development by the end of this year.

Multi-specific therapeutics are different from combination therapies, where the molecules are administered separately to hit two or more targets that contribute to disease, Lilly noted. With multi-specific therapeutics, two or more mechanisms of action are combined using molecular biology into a single molecule to hit the same targets.

“Scientists believe that they can design these novel molecules with protein engineering strategies that maximise therapeutic benefit while also minimising or even removing some side effects,” the company commented.  

Lilly’s own protein engineering expertise has been built up internally in its Indianapolis biotechnology research group and through the acquisition of Applied Molecular Evolution (AME in late 2003.

The company is also analysing its historic library of protein and antibody assets, a compilation of molecules from decades of research conducted at Lilly Research Laboratories, AME and ImClone (acquired in late 2008), to determine whether they have potential to be engineered into multi-specific therapeutics.