Lilly Innovation Fellowship Award Program

Initiated in 2012, the Lilly Innovation Fellowship Award (LIFA) program was created to identify and foster exceptional post-doctoral scientists pursuing ground breaking research projects. The prestigious LIFA program pairs a post-doctoral scientist with their academic mentor and a Lilly scientist, who serves as an industry mentor, to advance an innovative research proposal developed by the fellow. The goal of the LIFA program is to focus on research topics or "Grand Challenges" that will drive innovation in scientific areas of greatest strategic interest to Eli Lilly and Company, while remaining general enough to foster disruptive innovation.

Post-doctoral scientists have an option to elect any of the following research arrangements upon mutual agreement with their academic mentor.

  1. All research performed at academic institution in collaboration with Lilly mentor.
  2. Research performed at academic institution, with a limited number of short-term (less than 6 weeks) "visiting scientist" trips to Lilly.
  3. Research begins at academic institution and after a pre-determined time point, the post-doctoral scientist will transition full-time to a Lilly research site to complete the project under the LIFA Agreement.

Note: For research arrangements 1 and 2, the post-doctoral scientist will be an employee of the academic institution. However, in the research arrangement 3, the post-doctoral scientist will be an employee of the academic institution while at that location and then a Lilly fixed duration employee while at a Lilly site.

Research projects foster career development and are pre-competitive in nature; thus, publication both encouraged and expected. Career development resources and other benefits are provided, including up to four years of salary, benefits and limited travel support to attend scientific meetings while participating in the program.

Consideration for participation in the program is currently limited to invited academic research centers around the world.

For more information, click on one of the boxes below, or email

Who Can Apply?

The LIFA program is by invitation only to selected academic research centers around the world. All applications must be submitted to Lilly by the office of the Dean for their institution. Interested applicants should contact their Dean for further information.

To qualify for consideration for the program, applicants must:

  • Have a doctoral degree (Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent) that is awarded by May 31, 2016, and expected to be no more than four years prior to May 31, 2016
  • Must obtain the commitment of an academic mentor who will serve as their post-doctoral sponsor and will support them in the application process
  • The post-doctoral position must not be contingent upon LIFA funding

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Program Benefits

Recognizing that many post-doctoral training programs have not always prepared young scientists for the full spectrum of job opportunities available to them (academic, industry, biotech/start up, government, not-for-profit research), Lilly has designed this program to broaden post-doctoral scientists’ training experience.

Key to the success of this program will be the establishment of a true academic-industry training partnership where the post-doctoral scientist and their academic mentor are paired with a Lilly scientist who serves as an industry mentor. The research projects are designed to be "pre-competitive" to encourage publication and presentation of resulting data.

Program benefits include:

  • Full post-doctoral salary and benefits for up to four years
  • Limited post-doctoral travel support to attend scientific conferences
  • Annual payment to the university to support the post-doctoral scientist’s training
  • Relocation support when moving from the university to work at a Lilly research site
  • Participation in Lilly post-doctoral scientist development programs
  • Interaction with Lilly’s global scientific network and become part of Lilly’s community of current post-doctoral scientists and alumni

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Grand Challenges

A primary driver for the Lilly Innovation Fellowship Award Program is to stimulate pharmaceutical innovation through training of the next generation of drug discovery and development scientists. In selection of a research topic, applicants are encouraged to address one of the significant problems, or "Grand Challenges," facing discovery or development of new pharmaceutical therapies. Proposals should be either directed at 1) key therapeutic area interests of Lilly, which include: diabetes, oncology, neurodegenerative disease, chronic pain and autoimmune disease or 2) fundamental scientific areas relevant to drug discovery and development, including: chemistry (excluding structure activity relationships), formulations, biopharmaceuticals, translational science, novel in vitro and in vivo assay technologies/modeling, drug safety, pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics or analytics/biostatistics and bioinformatics. Some examples are provided below; however, this list is not exhaustive and should be considered as an illustration of the types of projects that would be of greatest interest for the LIFA program.

  1. To establish clinical efficacy and safety earlier in the drug discovery and development process for core areas of research interest to Lilly.
    • Improved validation of human disease targets and their associated risks for:
    • Diabetes
      • - novel targets with breakthrough potential in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (including robust weight loss, disease modification, addressing complications)
      • - approaches for maintenance or regeneration of pancreatic T-cells
      • - immuno-oncology efforts based on T-cell receptor with interests in T-cell stimulation, trafficking, infiltration and redirection as well as approaches removing suppressive signals on T-cells
      • - bromodomain epigenetic targets
      • - novel approaches and targets for manipulation of dysfunctional tumor microenvironment
      • - identification of neoepitopes as targets for redirecting anti-tumor immune response
      • - novel approaches to inhibition of Tau propagation
      • - approaches for neurorestoration and proteostasis in neurodegenerative conditions
      Chronic Pain
      • - identification of novel targets in areas of peripheral neuropathies, musculoskeletal, central neuropathic and headache prevention
      • approaches targeting T-helper 17 cells, B-cells and immune checkpoint receptors
      • approaches to utilizing immune checkpoints in development of auto-immune therapies
    • Animal models that reliably and predictably translate to humans (e.g. animal models for diabetes-associated cardiac failure or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, better animal models for pain and auto-immune diseases)
    • Use of adaptive judgment-based systems for application to data assessments for a given target or a clinical study
    • Technologies that predict likelihood of safety concerns with emphasis on translational safety.
    • In vitro or in vivo models for reliable prediction of human tolerability and pharmacology to guide process and product development of biopharmaceutical products.
    • Tissue compartment modeling and methods of studying disposition and subcutaneous absorption.
  2. To discover mechanisms that identify the right medicine for the right patient.
    • Technologies (e.g. diagnostics, imaging, analytical chemistry, "big data" analysis) that best inform the choice of treatment in specific disease states of interest.
    • Pharmacogenomic approaches to targeted patient selection.
    • Physiologically-based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) modeling strategies to improve human drug clearance and drug-drug interactions.
    • Methods and techniques that improve patient monitoring for both efficacy and safety endpoints in clinical trials.
  3. To deliver exceptional patient outcomes.
    • Combination strategies based on patient tailoring and underlying genetics.
    • Detection of micro-metastatic cancer.
    • Identification of novel factors or pathways leading to adverse cardiovascular, renal or hepatic outcomes in patients with diabetes.
  4. To simplify large-scale chemistry and protein production and minimize environmental impact.
    • Flexible manufacturing strategies for delivery of "green" synthetic processes.
    • Novel protein expression methods and approaches to large-scale biomolecule production.
    • Understanding ER-based protein folding and the use of cell engineering to improve the homogeneity of product.
    • Improving the reliability of scale-down models and predictive tools to reduce cost and time of developing manufacturing processes for therapeutic proteins.
    • Robust alternative (non-mammalian) expression systems for the production of proteins.
    • Novel approaches for rapid-acting insulins and glucose-sensing insulins.
    • Novel approaches for large scale manufacturing of therapeutic peptides.
  5. To target and deliver biologics and small molecule therapeutics precisely.
    • Approaches for generation of orally bioavailable or brain penetrant large biomolecules.
    • Advanced analytical and informatics approaches to enable simultaneous optimization of molecules across multiple parameters.
    • Next generation formulation approaches to efficiently deliver potent oral drugs that have non-ideal physicochemical properties.
    • Directed delivery methods, such as antibody-drug conjugates and nano-technologies.

Lilly Therapeutic and Functional Areas currently participating in the LIFA program include:

  • ADME/Drug Disposition
  • Analytical / Statistical Sciences
  • Autoimmune and Inflammatory Diseases
  • Biomolecule Science & Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Diabetes
  • Diagnostics
  • Drug Delivery & Devices
  • Health Outcomes Research
  • Informatics
  • Medicinal/Discovery Chemistry
  • Neuroscience (pain, neurodegeneration)
  • Oncology
  • Pharmaceutical Sciences (biologics and small molecules)
  • Process Chemistry
  • Protein Production
  • Regulatory Sciences
  • Tailored Therapeutics (targeting therapies for the right patient with the right dose)
  • Toxicology

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