Indiana scientist helps discover COVID antibody treatment

Anke Neustadt

Jirong Lu helped create Eli Lilly’s antibody treatments to fight COVID-19.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Winter Olympics highlights Beijing and Chinese culture. However, you don’t have to look far in the Hoosier state to find stories of Chinese Americans making a difference.

Jirong Lu helps create molecules. Her job leads to critical medicine for patients down the road. During the pandemic, her team helped attack the coronavirus. She is among more than 1,000 employees originally from China.

It’s been two years since the pandemic turned life upside down. 

“It’s depressing, but for us, working as a drug discovery scientist, learning about the disease and finding the solution to help, it’s absolutely exciting,” Lu said.

Lu oversees an Eli Lilly lab where she and her team discover new medicine in many therapeutic areas like Alzheimer’s.

“Our group is really focused on making molecules,” Lu said.

When the pandemic hit, Eli Lilly’s full force, including Lu’s team, jumped into action. 

“Our COVID antibodies started out with millions of different molecules and quickly triaged into one molecule,” Lu said. “So, it’s like finding the needle in the haystack.”

Lu’s group helped discover Lilly’s antibody treatments to fight COVID-19. 

“You see two decades of working happening in short time,” Lu said.

She said scientists at all stages were able to fast forward thanks to more resources and urgency. 

“It definitely takes an army of people and great teamwork to get there. It’s something I’m really proud of,” Lu said. “This year’s my 25th year at Lilly. I’m going to get some extra vacation time.”

Lu took the job at Lilly after moving to the U.S. from China for graduate school. It was a culture shock.

“I’m very proud in the fact that we make diversity one of the key objectives in the company,” Lu said. “I will say, Chinese culture is pretty much embedded in me and part of me right?”

She even has a Chinese garden.

“I don’t know if you know about loofah mol… I was going to say, ‘molecule’ but vegetables!” Lu said.

When she’s not in the lab, she also enjoys dancing. 

“I think it’s a good way to connect with people,” Lu said.

However, it’s her job that makes the greatest impact as she helps patients all over from central Indiana.

“For myself, I’ve never dreamed about, ‘can I settle down in Indianapolis and taking a role at Eli Lilly?’ It’s absolutely still amazing,” Lu said.

https://www.wthr.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/eli-lilly-scientist-finds-needle-in-haystack-to-discover-new-medicine-covid-coronavirus-antibodies-indianapolis-indiana/531-93624c75-f1e2-42b9-9dde-2d48ec023b3e

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