Accelerating Lilly Oncology’s R&D Strategy

Conducting high-quality cancer research – that’s what drives Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D., every day. He’s determined to lead the Lilly Oncology team in its mission to develop cancer treatments that make a meaningful difference for patients and provide new options for the oncologists who treat them. As senior vice president for global development and medical affairs, Dr. Garraway has spent his inaugural year at Lilly Oncology configuring and driving forward our focused research and development (R&D) strategy in oncology. Here, Dr. Garraway gives some insights into how he plans to accelerate our plans for Lilly Oncology.

Q. You’ve been at Lilly for a year and a half now. How have you influenced Lilly’s Oncology R&D strategy?

A. Over the past year, our team has focused on refining our overall strategy, prioritizing the pipeline based on that strategy, making dynamic new hires and pursuing strategic acquisitions to further augment our pipeline.

Strategically, we wish to emphasize the development of what we call foundational agents. These are treatments that 1) target key tumor vulnerabilities, hence a strong biological rationale; 2) indicate a meaningful clinical effect, often demonstrating single-agent activity; and 3) form the basis for rational combination treatments across multiple tumor subtypes.

The recent focusing of our pipeline based on this strategy and knowledge of our particular strengths now allows us to invest aggressively in the clinical development of several priority molecules that have the potential for meaningful clinical impact. In parallel, this prioritization effort has informed our business development plans, including the recent decision to acquire two oncology companies.

Q: How does partnering with other organizations contribute to the success of the Lilly R&D strategy?

A: Strategic partnerships allow companies or institutions to combine distinct but complementary expertise that may allow synergistic advances toward new therapeutic solutions. Our recent partnership with CureVac provides an instructive example: This combines the oncology R&D expertise of Lilly with the mRNA vaccine platform expertise of CureVac. The goal of this partnership is to produce multiple new cancer vaccine products in the coming years, thereby leveraging a promising new immunotherapy approach. Separately, we could each have spent years trying to figure out how to develop such products by ourselves, but together we are able to combine strength and experiences to speed the research forward. This type of approach provides a useful guiding principle for many ongoing or planned Lilly Oncology partnerships.

Q. The theme at ASCO this year is precision medicine. How is Lilly focusing on precision medicine?

A: This topic is near and dear to my heart because I have spent much of my career applying various precision medicine approaches to oncology. The essence of cancer precision medicine involves selecting the right medicine for the right patient at the right time, often leveraging new genetic or molecular approaches that identify those tumors that are most likely to respond to a given treatment.

Our overall R&D strategy seeks to be anchored by precision medicine principles. As part of this strategy, we have incorporated a “precision-based” framework to guide oncology therapeutic development. For example, this framework requires that we define a clear biological and clinical hypothesis for why the treatment should work, and that we use genetic or molecular biomarkers to enrich for tumors likely to be particularly vulnerable to that treatment.

Fully incorporating this framework throughout our clinical development should improve our ability to test experimental medicines in the “right” cancer patient sub-populations. In this way, we aspire to apply our understanding of tumor biology to each patient to help ensure that they receive the best possible medicines for their disease – the end goal of precision medicine.