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.
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 them 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, 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