Lilly calls in some academic muscle to get its cancer pipeline moving

Eli Lilly ($LLY) inked a pair of deals with Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Sarah Cannon Research Institute to hit the gas on oncology R&D, aiming to shorten the development process for a slew of new medicines.

First, in a wide-ranging deal with Dana-Farber, Lilly plans to spend the next three years alongside the institute's researchers exploring the potential of some early-stage cancer candidates. The two will collaborate on preclinical and clinical studies, and Lilly will allow its partner to run independent trials using some of the company's proprietary compounds. Neither side is disclosing financial details, but Lilly noted that it retains the rights to all candidates involved in the deal.

In a separate, more specific agreement, Lilly is bringing in Sarah Cannon to help out with LY3023414, a Phase II cancer treatment that targets the PI3K and mTOR pathways to kill tumors. The institute is on board to provide its expertise in clinical development and trial design, and Lilly hopes the group's researchers can help speed LY3023414 through studies in lung and prostate cancers and into Phase III.

The overarching goal of each deal is to more quickly bring cancer therapies from the lab to the marketplace, Lilly said, whether through an open, early-stage collaboration, as with Dana-Farber, or an asset-specific deal, as with Sarah Cannon.

The former arrangement is "a new kind of collaboration between a comprehensive cancer center and a large pharmaceutical company," Dana-Farber Chief Scientific Officer Barrett Rollins said in a statement. Lilly, by handing over the keys to many of its compounds, can get more out of Dana-Farber's expertise than would be possible in a more limited collaboration, Rollins said.

- read the Dana-Farber announcement
- here's the Sarah Cannon statement