For Better


Meet Lilly Scientist Maria Alvim Gaston

  • Meet Maria Alvim Gaston, Ph.D., a principal research scientist in Lilly’s External Innovation and Lead Generation group.

  • Maria looking at photos from her parents’ wedding album.

    Maria grew up in a small town outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She is the youngest of five children. Her mother and father met while they were working as laborers in a steel mill. Wanting a better life for their children, Maria’s parents insisted that all five kids attend trade school.

  • Maria graduated trade school as a chemist, where she learned how to make concoctions like paint, shampoo, and soap. She went on to pharmacy school and then earned a scholarship to the University of Mississippi to study medicinal chemistry.

  • Maria received her doctorate in medicinal chemistry from the University of Mississippi in 2000.

    “When I was studying chemistry in Brazil, I worked with mostly men. While that scared my father, he never discouraged me from continuing to study,” says Maria. “My father’s dream for me was to have a college degree, so when I went off to study for my Ph.D. at the University of Mississippi, he was very proud.”

  • Maria recently had a “full circle” moment at the 44th Annual MALTO (Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma) Medicinal Chemistry-Pharmacognosy Meeting-in-Miniature in May.

    “All of the chemistry students have to present their final research project at the MALTO conference in order to graduate,” says Maria. “I participated in the conference when I was a student, and this year I was honored to serve as the keynote speaker.” Her presentation focused on Lilly’s Open Innovation Drug Discovery program. Since joining Lilly in 2000, Maria’s had the opportunity to work as a computational chemist, a scientific operations associate and an external innovation scientist.

  • “Light bulb” moments in science happen every day. Through our Open Innovation Drug Discovery platform, we collaborate with external scientists in a hypothesis-driven approach to early drug discovery. “Participation gives them the opportunity to contribute to the discovery of new medicines that will improve peoples’ lives,” says Maria.

  • Photo of Maria’s parents, Nair and Cleon Alvim, in August 2007.

    “Both of my parents passed away from cancer,” says Maria. “My father first in 2008, and then my mother in 2014. I have a personal connection to the work I do now. I could be researching a medicine today that will help save someone else’s loved ones in the future.”

  • Maria stands in front of the first building she worked in as a chemist at Lilly’s R&D headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.

    Making the decision to join Lilly was an easy one for Maria. “I knew that joining a pharmaceutical company as a chemist would give me the best chance of making a meaningful contribution to society. I wanted to be part of a team that delivers innovative, new medicines to people who need them. That is our ultimate measure of success.”