Inside Eli Lilly and Co.

So you know I spent a few days this week on-site at Eli Lilly and Co. corp HQ, along with the other five winners of this year’s LillyforLife Achievement Awards.

Lilly_winners_1_1 But did you know that the great state of Indiana lies in two time zones? As of April 2006, eight counties have standardized on EST, rather than central time, in which folks there never change their clocks for daylight savings. Weird. Anyway, the new time zoning in meant a three-hour time difference for Yours Truly, which makes those early mornings extra brutal.

Following a welcome breakfast, we were treated to a tour of the “Lilly Museum,” chronicling the family history of Colonel Eli Lilly since he began his modest business as a “chemist” in 1876. In a small brick laboratory on Pearl St. in downtown Indianapolis, four employees including the Colonel’s 14-year-old son worked to refine fluid extracts, elixirs, syrups, and plant compounds imported from all over the world. It wasn’t long until they learned about gelatin-coating the pills they made, to make themLilly_pearl_st_lab easier to swallow and less likely to crumble in the bottles during transport.

This was accomplished with a large rotating cylinder contraption, studded with needles on which the pills were pinned in order to dip them in the coating and then dry them by hand-cranking the cylinder. Afterwards, employees actually used a paint brush to touch up the tiny hole where the pin had prevented each pill from being completely coated. My, we’ve come a long way, baby! Today, of course, Eli Lilly is a pharmaceutical giant with 40,000 employees worldwide. They’re still especially proud of their family history, and their early involvement with pioneers Banting and Best, who invented the process of creating human insulin — Lilly being the first company to introduce it. Lilly now controls 54% of the $5 billion insulin market, shipping to regions as far-flung as Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Japan.

The second half of our tour was an illustration of this prowess: a walk through the Parenteral Packaging Unit. Parenteral means “injectable,” they tell me. Here, huge blue palettes containing nearly 2,000 vials of insulin each are kept cool in a warehouse-sized refrigerator, kept at a steady 40 degrees every day of the year. Meticulous attention is given to the paperwork: the labels, Lilly_packaging cartons, and little product literature inserts that come with your medicine. Here lies the biggest quality control risk, apparently, and “counterfiet is a huge problem,” our tour guide told us. So the barcodes and laser imprint data are kept under lock and key.

At some point, Adult Achiever award-winner Pat La France-Wolf and her husband Perry gently pointed out that BRAILLE on the insulin product packaging might be a good idea. So far, they’ve only found that in Italy.

As we walked by, workers were hand assembling Lilly’s ubiquitous red Glucagon Emergency Kit, which most of us recognize from our own medicine cabinets and bedside tables. It’s currently Fall Rush season for these kits, we were told, as kids go back to school and nursing staffs need to refresh their supplies.

In another hallway, into which we could only peek, employees were busy compiling Lilly’s new Memoir Pen (which I introduced following the ADA Conference). This sleek, executive-style insulin pen sports a sophisticated memory function that stores the date, time, and your last dozen doses for detailed record-keeping. Neat! I’d try one in a minute, if I didn’t need the capability to give half-unit doses (which so few pens allow).

That evening, the Awards Banquet was an exclusive gala event attended by about 60 people, mostly from Lilly and its affiliates. Keynote speaker was Larry Smith, chair of the ADA’s Volunteer Board (coordinating nationwide efforts) and a very affable guy. He got involved after his daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 more than a decade ago and hasn’t stopped since. Also joining us was Lilly’s goodwill ambassador Kris Freeman, the cross-country ski champion who’s out for Olympic Gold — and who is one drop-dead gorgeous man, btw…

Upon accepting our trophies, we each said a few words of thanks. What I told them was this:

“As skeptical* as we patients — and we journalists — tend to be of the pharmaceutical industry, we DO APPRECIATE the companies that make the good medicines that keep us alive. So, thank you, Eli Lilly!”

(*all rights to future skepticism reserved ;)

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16 Responses

  1. Kathleen Weaver
    Kathleen Weaver September 8, 2006 at 10:32 am | | Reply

    The time zone thing is why I have two birthdays.

    My mom was originally told I was born on the 20th, but they were using the wrong clock — why that mattered in December, I still don’t know.

    So she sent out birth announcements for the 20th, and then had to send out new ones for the 19th.

  2. Kelly
    Kelly September 8, 2006 at 12:40 pm | | Reply

    Congratulations Amy!!

  3. Sue
    Sue September 8, 2006 at 1:56 pm | | Reply

    CPpharm who produce the natural insulins in the uk use brail on all their insulin bottles and have done for a few years now.

  4. JasonJayhawk
    JasonJayhawk September 9, 2006 at 12:36 am | | Reply

    That’s pretty neat. I didn’t know any drug companies gave out rewards, except for the 25-, 50-, and 75-year reward that Eli Lilly has done for a long time now.

    The 25- and 50-year rewards are the reason I’m saving my labwork — to give them the proof! :-D

  5. Kim
    Kim September 9, 2006 at 5:01 pm | | Reply

    Sounds like it was a lot of fun!

  6. Julie
    Julie September 10, 2006 at 2:56 pm | | Reply

    As much as I’d like to think of Lilly as a life saving company. I still have a feeling they are responsible for my autoimmune diseases including Type 1 diabetes. My mother took an Eli Lilly company drug called DES which was supposed to prevent miscarriages. Lilly pushed the drug even though their own scientists said it did not prevent miscarriages. Over one million daughters were born being exposed to this hormone. Many developed rare vaginal cancers while others suffer from fertility problems and autoimmune diseases.

  7. type1emt
    type1emt September 10, 2006 at 3:03 pm | | Reply

    That’s pretty cool-thanks for sharing your experiences. Congrats on the win..

  8. AmyT
    AmyT September 10, 2006 at 5:20 pm | | Reply

    Julie,
    I actually wrote the case study for the PR agency that helped the CDC create a national outreach campaign on DES. That drug was a national disaster that no one could foresee; Lilly was certainly not the only responsible party.

    It is certainly a tragedy, but many organizations have worked very hard to help victims. See http://www.cdc.gov/des

  9. Scott
    Scott September 11, 2006 at 7:09 pm | | Reply

    Sounds interesting. Do they even manufacture insulin in Indianapolis anymore? I was under the impression that most production was shifted to Puerto Rico in 2000 (at least, thats where Humalog is manufactured).

  10. Melody
    Melody September 13, 2006 at 6:01 am | | Reply

    . . . “we DO APPRECIATE the companies that make the good medicines that keep us alive. So, thank you, Eli Lilly!”

    Why did you qualify your appreciation? Since Lilly’s drugs “keep us alive,” must we also throw laurels their way on the pretense that they provide GOOD medicine.

    India is suing Lilly for providing substandard (read INFERIOR) insulin to their population. Is that the action of a good corporate citizen? Lilly’s response: “We didn’t make the product (even though it was marketed under our name).” The product was manufactured in France. DOESN’T that make you wonder about the quality of the stuff that we are “allowed” to purchase here . . . where it comes from, and what kind of safeguards protect us.

    Oh, I know, the FDA GUARANTEES that we here in the U.S. are protected. As a matter of fact, the FDA (currently a subsidiary of Big Pharma) helps all diabetics. It has shilled for Lilly, allowing THEM to import insulin crystals for brewing our “just-like-the-human-body-makes rDNA insulin” while placing roadblocks before any diabetic who cannot use the genetically-engineered stuff and must seek outside our borders for material to sustain life.

    But back to APPRECIATION. Have you thought to tender appreciation for Lilly’s generosity in providing 25- and 50-year awards to those diabetics who survive the disease for these timeframes. I believe the number of 50-year recipients is an astounding SEVENTEEN!!! I am sure that everyone of those 17 is GIDDY with appreciation. Would YOU consider 17 survivors in an 80-year tenure of providing insulin to MILLIONS a success rate worthy of merit?

    BTW, concerning your trip to Indianapolis? Did YOU pay for it?

  11. AmyT
    AmyT September 13, 2006 at 11:35 am | | Reply

    Melody,
    Take a deep breath…

    OK, so over the years I have worked for and with dozens of corporations. The fact is, there are often inherent conflicts of interest. But these organizations are not all bad.

    I have checked out your “conspiracy theory” book and website, and I don’t happen to abide by that philosophy.

    Whether you like it or not, lots of us ARE APPRECIATIVE that companies like Lilly produce and distribute the medicines that keep us alive. Hopefully, someday there will be something even better — a cure.

    Regarding my trip, I’ve stated clearly that the award winners were hosted by Lilly. Otherwise, I would have had no reason to fly there out of my own pocket.

    But you can rest assured that I will continue to be upfront and critical when necessary of Lilly and its peers.

    btw, the Joslin Diabetes Center has awarded 2,400 people with 50-year insulin awards worldwide since 1970. (see http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-08/jdc-jav080906.php)

    I believe they are all pretty “giddy with appreciation.” I know I would be :)

  12. Brent
    Brent September 14, 2006 at 7:14 am | | Reply

    Amy–

    Thank you very much for the response. As a “new” diabetic, at the very least I would hope you look on what is going on in the diabetic world with a jaundiced eye because the truth is you have become one of the victims of chronic disease which the pharmaceutical industry thrives on.

    I am a 50-year diabetic and would NOT honor Lilly for 50 years of hell. The only thing I can really say is that I have survived because of insulin–not because of Lilly and all of their new protocols.

    You are correct: there have been 2400 50-year awards, and my wife misquoted me when I referenced the 17 75-year awards. Consider the fact that 600 diabetics die, daily, which is an approximate total of 200,000. Since 1972, and considering that only 5% of diabetic deaths are from Type 1, in a span of 35 years, there have been over 400,000 Type 1 diabetic deaths. I would not consider that 2400/400,000 is a very good success rate based on an average life span of 78 years. If you add in the “quality of life” compared to that of a “normal” person, I would basically consider this “torture for profit.”

    My son-in-law, who is 35, is a newly-diagnosed Type 1 diabetic. Over the last 4 years, he has been forced to go to an insulin pump for regulation of his diabetes. Like you, he, too, is willing to believe in our current medical system, where MOST doctors are willing to prostitute themselves to the pharmaceutical companies. If you consider just one fact, you may get an inkling into why diabetes is ONLY big business. Back in 1982, I was introduced to home bG monitoring, using a color-range blood glucose stick. You must know what this once slice of diabetes management has developed into.

    A friend of mine, who has been a Type 1 for 20 years, and is wealthy enough to have 5 monitors, recently compared his meters because he was having trouble controlling bG. At one point, one drop of blood produced results ranging from 70 mg/dL to 170 mg/dL. At that point, because he maintains very tight control, he was left with the option of taking 2 units of Humalog to move his blood sugar into the “normal” range, if he believed the monitor that read 170. On the other hand, if he took the 2 units, and the meter with the 70 mg/dL reading was accurate, he could then go pick up his kids from school, and risk ALL their lives as he drove with a blood sugar that was approaching 20.

    As an inventor, I know there are several patented non-invasive bG monitors that are extremely accurate and will send results to a hand-held computer. These are prevented from reaching the marketplace because currently it is more desirable to have diabetics pay $5-$10 per day for bG strips. This simple slice of diabetes management illustrates why YOU will always be diabetic as long as Big Pharma has THEIR say about your management.

    Can you multiply 20,000,000 patients by 3-4 blood sticks per day? The profit margin on this 1970s technology is ludicrous.

    Yes, you can call me a disillusioned, senile old man who had experienced too many insulin reactions over my life span; or even say I am a conspiracy theorist. But the reason the world is in the state it is in, is because people who are in a position to make a difference–to do something for mankind–like many journalists, celebrities and medical professionals, have sold out to the industry.

    Please consider: you could probably help yourself and your diabetic condition much more advantageously by researching and promoting the likes of Dianne Faustmann at Mass. General and Dr. Hammermann, at Washington University in St. Louis. CURE is your only hope for a really long and normal life. As a fellow diabetic, I feel (analogously) like I have been raped for the last 25 years (since the advent of rDNA insulins/bG monitors/specialty foods/etc.) Now, you enter the picture as a “significant other” (which you are, as a fellow diabetic), and tell me that if I hadn’t acted so provacatively, or if I had dressed differently . . . I wouldn’t have been raped. But fortunately, my rapist DID use a condom.

    You need to tell an acquaintance of mine, whose daughter just died at age 51, after following every guideline imaginable issued by Joslin, ADA, JDRF and the best doctors “money could buy,” that today’s protocols are worthy of GREAT APPRECIATION.

    I wish you well and hope you can find comfort in the care that you are receiving, and will be yet another 50-year award recipient–even though it won’t be due to today’s management practices.

  13. AmyT
    AmyT September 14, 2006 at 3:48 pm | | Reply

    Brent,
    That was quite the rant. I hope that you find comfort in it.

  14. Daniel Haszard
    Daniel Haszard October 17, 2006 at 12:36 pm | | Reply

    Eli Lilly needs to get a grip on it’s outstanding zyprexa personal injury settlement claims.

    Daniel Haszard Bangor Maine zyprexa caused my diabetes http://www.zyprexa-victims.com

  15. Allie Beatty
    Allie Beatty November 17, 2007 at 3:49 pm | | Reply

    Hey Amy,

    That’s very cool. Thank you for sharing the experience up in Indianapolis. Conspiracy or not — I’d walk through that place like a kid visiting Disney World for the first time. Not quite Disney – but the worlds FIRST (and only) diabetes theme park ;)

    Always,
    Allie

  16. Janice Harrison
    Janice Harrison March 17, 2011 at 8:15 am | | Reply

    Brent, I have to say that I agree with your assessment that Type 1 diabetics are big business for the pharmaceutical industry. The price of test strips alone is very high and the cost of insulin outrageous. Living with this every day is really like purgatory. I am 45 years old, having had Type 1 since age 30, the exact same age that Mary Tyler Moore was diagnosed. I know I was type 1 because my blood sugar on diagnosis was 858 and I had diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

    At the beginning, as a new diabetic, you are so overwhelmed that you do not see the “big picture.” Over time, however, you begin to realize that much of what you are told is decided by those who do not have the disease in the first place and really don’t have a clue as to what it is like. The amazing thing is that the pharmaceutical industry, which is your lifeline as a type 1 diabetic, is really making “a killing” (literally) off of us. For instance, Humalog insulin is now $132 per bottle, and Lantus insulin is now over $100 per bottle. That is over $200 per month just for insulin alone, not withstanding the test strips, meters, etc. Keep careful track of your monthly expenditures because it will come in handy in income tax time!

    AlthoughI have maintained excellent control since 1996, the year I got it, and as a result have had no complications at all, that does not mean that living with type 1 diabetes is easy. It is a complicated, maddening and frustrating disease for which a cure should have been found YESTERDAY! I agree with Brent’s post because type 1 diabetics make no insulin of their own and must take it by injection to survive. This causes real vulnerability to exploitation, and the pharmaceutical industry has taken full advantage of it.

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