Since our founding in May 1876, by Col. Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, Indiana, we’ve been driven to improve the quality and effectiveness of medicines that make life better for people around the world. That drive began with Col. Lilly’s vision to:
- Build a company that manufactured pharmaceutical products based on quality ingredients, precise compounding, and honest labeling.
- Develop only medicines that would be dispensed at the recommendation of legitimate physicians rather than by eloquent sideshow hucksters.
- Base research and medicines on the best science of the day.
As part of this legacy, in 1919, company President Josiah K. Lilly, Sr. hired a chemist named George Henry Alexander Clowes to assist, and eventually direct, all research efforts at Lilly.
Discovery of Insulin
Before the discovery of insulin, diabetes was a debilitating and fatal disease with no effective treatment.
In 1921, at the University of Toronto, Dr. Frederick Banting and his assistant, Charles Best, began experiments that would confirm the existence of insulin. With injections of pancreas extract, Banting and Best significantly prolonged the life of a severely diabetic dog, Marjorie. Later that year, Dr. Banting presented the findings of his experiments to the American Physiological Society, which Dr. Clowes attended.
In 1922, Dr. Clowes suggested that Lilly and the University of Toronto collaborate in preparing insulin commercially. Lilly research chemist George Walden was instrumental in the development of a pure, stable form of insulin as well as a method for extracting and producing it in large quantities. Thus, Lilly became the first company to manufacture this life-saving medicine on a large scale—making it widely available to people who so desperately needed it.
The commercial release of insulin marked a watershed moment in the history of medicine and the history of Lilly. For people with diabetes, a diagnosis that had once been a death sentence became a manageable condition with hope for a normal life. For Lilly, our discoveries and developments in insulin production catapulted us from a regional manufacturer of medicines to a full-scale research institution with global reach.
Our success fueled our determination and increased our resources to better understand diabetes, develop partners, and collaborate with research organizations. In 1982, Lilly introduced another milestone in diabetes research: the first biosynthetic 'human' insulin with recombinant DNA technology. And in 1996, Lilly led again in innovation with the first rapid-acting insulin analog.
Our commitment to diabetes has led to a diverse portfolio of treatments, resources, and support programs to help people with diabetes—and their families—in every step of their journey with the disease.
Research and development continue to drive our quest to make managing diabetes easier. Every day, when employees and visitors walk through the front entrance of our corporate headquarters in Indianapolis, they’re greeted with a graceful and towering statue depicting an iconic image from our past - a mother holding a frail child, diagnosed with diabetes and awaiting the availability of insulin. The prominence of this statue is meant not only to serve as a visual reminder of the accomplishments of our past, but also of the responsibility of our future.