With a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an MBA from Indiana University and an undergraduate background at the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Christina Kiley was a natural fit to join Eli Lilly and Company, which has a large presence in Indianapolis. Since 2009, Dr. Kiley has held a variety of roles at the biopharmaceutical company, blending both business and research. Today she leads drug development teams in Lilly’s immunology and neurodegeneration portfolios. In 2017, Dr. Kiley was designated a Trailblazer in Lilly’s effort to transform research and advance drugs with novel mechanisms quickly to proof of concept.
Dr. Kiley’s teams work to develop new therapies that target areas of high unmet need such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Crohn’s disease. Immunology and neurodegeneration are vast fields, but research in these areas has been greatly aided by scientists’ improved understanding of human genetics and its relationship to disease management.
“I think we’re just starting to reap the benefits of the human genome project,” Dr. Kiley says, referring to the 13-year-long global research effort to identify the estimated 30,000 genes in human DNA, which was completed in 2003. “In my field of immunology and neurodegeneration, we’re starting to see the changes that result from different screening tools and different abilities to tailor therapies. That’s incredibly exciting, because if we can find the right medicine for the right patient at the right time, to us, that’s the Holy Grail.”
The Driving Force
Dr. Kiley is somewhat unique among her colleagues in that, while she has a scientific background, many of her initial roles at Lilly were in the commercial organization. Through these experiences, she developed a strong understanding of the patient perspective and the diverse ways patients are incorporated into biopharmaceutical research.
“At Lilly, we do a lot of work through market research and partnerships with patient advocacy organizations to incorporate the patient voice – and the voices of their caretakers and family members – into research,” she says.
These voices and needs drive both Dr. Kiley’s work and the efforts of the scientists around her.
“We’re constantly trying to understand the true unmet needs for patients, and how can we make sure that when we’re studying our future medicines, we’re studying them in a way that we can show we’re making a meaningful impact,” she says.
Challenges and Collaboration
In today’s new era of medicine, our understanding of disease pathways has led to dramatic advances in medicine and given hope to patient populations who previously had few or no effective treatment options. For example, Dr. Kiley says the progress in psoriasis treatments has in recent years been “amazing,” and that therapies today can give patients a chance at being completely clear of symptoms for a long time.
However, progress has not been universal, and Dr. Kiley points to Alzheimer’s research as an example where the wealth of scientific knowledge gained in recent years has yet to produce a medicine that can make a long-lasting impact on patients.
“This one area has been really, really hard,” she says. “But that’s why we keep trying. As researchers, whenever a wall is placed in front of us, we do all we can to find a door so that we can find another way out, around, over or through to try to get to the other side.”
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