Scientists are marking a major milestone in the use of biotechnology as medicine, and it all began 40 years ago in Indianapolis. In the late 1970’s, researchers from Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY) made a breakthrough development with a biosynthetic insulin drug for people with insulin-dependent diabetes. Humulin became the first biosynthetic medicine registered for human use.
IU Bloomington Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Richard DiMarchi, who was part of the Humulin research team, spoke with Inside INdiana Business Reporter Kylie Veleta to discuss the drug’s development and its impact on the city’s life sciences sector.
“This was the first landmark demonstration that this technology can produce a powerful human medicine,” said DiMarchi. “We call it biosynthetic insulin because it comes from synthetic sources as opposed to natural origin. You don’t find it in nature. We make it in micro-organisms, we make it in bacteria.”
DiMarchi says the biosynthetic insulin, called human insulin, was created using genetic engineering and was the first pharmaceutical to use rDNA sequencing.
Originally, insulin was extracted from animals, and DiMarchi says there was growing concern that demand would outpace supply.
“There was concern about the supply. There was also concerns about the quality of the material,” said DiMarchi. “It was available in virtually unlimited supply, as the methodology improved, such that we avoided what would have become a scarcity of insulin and even a rationing of insulin.”
DiMarchi says the 40th anniversary is significant for the state, and demonstrates the fact that “in central Indiana, technology became medicine.”
He says validating the technology as more than just a research tool, as a new method to make breakthrough medicines instead was one of the most important accomplishments to come out of the project.
You can read more about biosynthetic insulin and DiMarchi’s work by clicking here.