zWORKS member dedicates life to Alzheimer’s research
One zWORKS member was one of thousands to take Lilly’s retirement package in 2017.
Dr. Eric Siemers spent two decades researching Alzheimer’s disease at Eli Lilly and is continuing his life work as an independent consultant.
He joined a group of five other former Lilly employees and set up shop at zWORKS to support each other in their individual quests.
“What’s interesting about Alzheimer’s is that even people at other pharmaceutical companies – we’re all rooting for each other because everybody just wants a success,” Siemers said.
It all started after Siemers graduated from IU School of Medicine and joined the neurology department faculty. He was tasked with setting up a movement disorder clinic.
“I probably was pretty naïve on what I was getting myself into, but it grew and grew,” Siemers said.
The clinic grew as well as Siemers’ interest in clinical trial design. He said the pharmaceutical companies sponsoring the trials are usually in charge of the design, so he started talking to Lilly back in 1998.
He met with a Lilly Alzheimer’s researcher, Pat May, and discussed the hot topics in neurodegenerative diseases – Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, etc.
“I thought this is really where the solutions are coming from,” Siemers said. “Of course, it’s been a long time and we haven’t had any winners yet but that’s a little different story.”
Siemers watched the Alzheimer’s team grow from a small group to over 700 people. He was involved with two different drugs at one point with four studies going on that involved 4,600 people in over 30 countries around the world. The second drug was what many people were enthusiastic about.
He said he could spend hours talking about why the results were negative but he didn’t count it as a loss.
“There was a little effect there which is a big deal in this field in anything,” he said. “It wasn’t good enough that people would take it as a medicine but it wasn’t zero.”
As he continues the battle against Alzheimer’s, he said while the biggest challenge is the negative results, the biggest reward has been the people he has been able to work with.
Five of those people are part of the zWORKS group today.
“zWORKS gave us a place to get together,” he said. “Sometimes we talk about scientific things, sometimes it’s consulting things like what software programs we use to do accounting or what’s important in a contract.”
They each have their own specialty and he said they’ve worked so closely for so long that they can get things done quicker and “finish each other’s sentences occasionally.”
Some of the major differences between his work at Lilly and now is that he’s able to see the other research that’s happening outside of Lilly and also meet new people.
“In 2018, I had to build the plane – the consulting business,” he said. “This year I’ve been trying to figure out how to fly it.”
In Alzheimer’s research, everyone has the same goal and he said to reach that goal, there is one main thing people can do to help – enroll in clinical trials.
“If people really want to do something to get better treatments, it’s get in a trial,” he said. “The participants are the real heroes. It’s really important and there’s no other way to get the answers that you need.”
Siemers has lived with his family in Zionsville since 2000.