A Unique Model Committed to Discovery with Purpose
A vision, driven by energizing deliberate collaboration among passionate, focused entrepreneurs and innovators in the fields of life science and technology is shaping up to be a unique model for speeding discovery via partnerships. Understood to be the first of its kind as a public-private collaboration model, the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI) was established in 2013. It was initiated with a $25 million investment by the State of Indiana and its main campus is located in Indianapolis. This was quickly matched by an additional $25 million from Lilly Endowment, Eli Lilly and Company, Roche Diagnostics, Dow AgroSciences, Indiana University Health, and the Indiana University School of Medicine. The IBRI began to lay the groundwork for an applied research institute focused on collaborative innovation and moving solutions into the marketplace.
Two short years later and having raised additional funding from Cook, Lilly Foundation, and the Lilly Endowment, the Institute moved into its current headquarters on the north side of downtown Indianapolis in October 2015. The IBRI’s office overlooks the planned site of the 16Tech Innovation District where the Institute will be the anchor tenant. 16Tech Innovation District is a planned innovation community purpose-built to attract the best talent to collaborate, innovate and commercialize new ideas across a spectrum of advanced industries, including life sciences, technology and advanced manufacturing. It plans to break ground in late 2017.
Every step of the way, the IBRI has been focused on building an institute that encourages collaboration and make it easy. The Institute recruits talented scientists, who are entrepreneurs and innovators motivated to see their science have an impact on patients. IBRI’s current leadership and research team have collaboratively over the course of their careers: raised more than $1.5 billion in research funding and investment capital, developed therapeutics, medical devices and diagnostics valued at more than $25 billion, been named on more than 400 patents, and started and/or led more than a dozen new ventures.
“I love to say that entrepreneurship and innovation is a contact sport and so you’ve got to facilitate contact,” said David Broecker, President and CEO of IBRI. “We don’t expect our people just to be in the lab 24-7. We want them to be getting out, having conversations, establishing a network, and being physically in different places is an important aspect of that.”
Broecker believes that for innovators associated with the IBRI to take ideas from the white board to the real world, “You’ve got to be in places where people congregate and create an environment where you’re going to share ideas and roll up your shirt sleeves.”
Research operations began in 2016, with the first collaboration in the arena of big data. “The IBRI has invested in developing unique applied data science capabilities to integrate multiple sources of ‘big data’ with biological information,” said Daniel Robertson, Visiting Research Fellow on a loaned executive program from Eli Lilly and Company, where he recently served as Senior Director of Research IT. “The convergence of information technology and life sciences is an exciting area for innovation through the development of tools and applications that will enable deep computer learning to assist researchers, clinicians, and patients.”
Based on numerous conversations with IBRI’s industrial stakeholders to understand their critical “big data” problems and Robertson’s understanding of the regional assets, such as the INPCÔ (Indiana Network of Patient Care), multi-organization collaborative project was initiated to understand how type 2 diabetes varies in patients. In late 2016, IBRI brought collaborators together and the project was launched. The INPCÔ is a unique Indiana asset that captures a large portion of Indiana’s health providers’ patient data through the Indiana Health Information Exchange organization. The local Regenstrief Institute associated closely with the Indiana University School of Medicine is the primary organization using this database for research.
Initially, Eli Lilly was the sole industrial partner interested in this IBRI-led project, but last year during the project planning stages another IBRI partner, Roche Diagnostics, asked to join. IBRI’s collaborative, applied research focus was the perfect model to allow multiple partners with different strategic markets to actively participate in a shared project. This project included a mixed group of participants including Eli Lilly and Company, Roche Diagnostics, Indiana University School of Medicine, and the Regenstrief Institute, with IBRI being the key catalyst to bring all these parties together.
Understand how type 2 diabetes varies in different patients is the first step to identifying new targets for the development of novel patient treatments and improved diagnostic tools. The first-of-its-kind partnership will have access to information on more than 800,000 type 2 diabetics in the State of Indiana from the INPCÔ database and another even larger set used as a control.
“Every life science organization is working to understand how to connect biology to technology to drive both new discoveries and interventions, particularly in complex diseases like diabetes,” said Broecker. “Given our unique position as an independent research institute, the IBRI is able to bring together leading companies like Lilly and Roche with academic collaborators like Regenstrief and Indiana University to explore a big problem from multiple perspectives and data sources. This is the essence of ‘big data’.”
The type 2 diabetes project exemplifies IBRI’s ability to bring together distinct organizations such as: data owners, health experts, data scientists, scientists, and technologists to work on a challenging problem of interest to multiple industrial partners. It would not have been easily accomplished without IBRI as the integrator and catalyst. In fact, there have been numerous prior conversations between two of these organizations, but it was never led to an active agreement or project. Additionally, with IBRI’s applied research project, this collaboration is being managed more like an industrial project with a defined budget, key deliverables, milestones, and metrics for success as opposed to with a more open-ended research collaboration or a consortium.
In this project, each collaborator brings a unique perspective and relevant insights that ultimately improve both the scientific quality of the project and increase the potential to impact patients’ lives in the future. The barriers in setting up this collaboration were ultimately not access to the data or the technical tools – it was aligning the interests of the partners on a valuable problem and then working to make this collaboration happen. Other collaborations that will tackle challenging problems where IBRI can play a critical role as catalyst, organizational broker, or data broker are either under way or in active discussions.
In addition to applied data science, the IBRI has developed capabilities and hired researchers in metabolic discovery, translation, and single cell bioanalytics. Some of the capabilities and areas of ongoing active research focus include: Metabolic Mouse Core; Zebrafish Core, Cell Culture Core, Collaborative Toxicogenomics Platform, Regeneration of Beta Cells in Type 1 Diabetics.