two scientists working in lab

Collaboration with CureVac

Eli Lilly and Company  | January 1, 2020

An Update on the Pursuit for Transformative Medicines

“This could be a game changer in cancer,” said Kyla Driscoll, research fellow at Lilly leading the CureVac collaboration. The goal: develop a cancer vaccine that will train a patient’s T cells to specifically recognize and destroy cancer cells. As Lilly and CureVac approach this major milestone – first human dose of this cancer vaccine in a clinical trial – they credit the companies’ combined expertise, strong collaboration and shared desire to get a medicine to patients quickly for the success of this program. 

Driscoll could hardly contain her excitement when talking about the partnership as she described working in this next frontier in cancer medicine and this new way to target the immune system. “It’s been hard work,” she said, “requiring constant communication, troubleshooting and strategizing together every step of the way to accomplish it.” 

This open dialogue built trust, allowing the team to quickly and efficiently manage hurdles that arose during development and manufacturing. The chemistry, manufacturing and control team, led by Shilpa Kaushik, was undeterred by predicted and unpredicted challenges, including a major obstacle that was overcome by applying Lilly’s streamlined approach to drug research and development along with strong teamwork to maintain the development timeline deliverables. Driscoll explains that “when everyone is operating toward a common goal and with a true sense of urgency, we can quickly implement solutions.” 

Both Lilly and CureVac leveraged their individual strengths to solve for the unknowns that come with doing something for the first time. The team knew they wanted to create a cancer vaccine using RNA technology that could be manufactured in a way that it could be used “off-the-shelf.” This type of therapy could be manufactured in bulk and improve timing to get the medicine to patients. It also could benefit patients who potentially have more than one mutation in their tumor. 

“The dream – that someday we could prevent cancer by giving a vaccine to people before they ever develop cancer,” Driscoll said.