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Editorial: Research institute can help Indiana prosper

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John Lechleiter, the CEO of Eli Lilly and Co., is calling for the creation of a “world-class” research institute in Indianapolis to bring together scientists from universities and corporations to develop new medical therapies and companies.

He said Lilly would commit an unspecified amount of money to sponsor research at the new institute as well as allowing its scientists to participate in collaborations at the institute.

“I sort of see it as the kettle on the stove. It’s boiling, it’s just brimming over with ideas,” Lechleiter said of the research institute he has in mind, which he compared to the Broad Institute in Massachusetts or the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.

The research institute idea, which Lechleiter hopes gets launched by state, university and corporate leaders within the next year, was part of a broader charge he gave leaders in Indiana to redouble their efforts to grow life sciences businesses here.

Speaking at a recent meeting sponsored by Indianapolis-based life sciences group BioCrossroads, Lechleiter said, “On one hand, we can be content with the progress we’ve made and continue to follow the same path that got us this far. My prediction is that this will produce diminishing returns over time. Or we can make a course correction based on a sober assessment of our strengths and shortcomings and those of the competition we face.”

To do that, he said, Indiana needs to train and attract talented life sciences workers, which will require improvements in Indiana’s K-12 education, greater access to vocational training, investments in mass transit and an inclusive policy environment. He also called for the state government to “re-engage” with the life sciences.

He said the state’s research universities need to be more entrepreneurial in order to support the state’s life sciences industry, with more faculty pursuing and being rewarded for pursuing the practical applications of their research.

The institute Lechleiter has in mind would try to bring together faculty from not just the state’s universities but commercial enterprises, as well. The research would be “outcome-driven,” focusing on new medicines, medical procedures and enterprises.

This is the kind of bold thinking Indiana needs to be doing to move forward in an increasingly technical segment of the economy. The state’s new governor, whoever is elected, would be wise to listen to Lechleiter’s ideas and embrace the bold spirit in which they were presented.

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