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AstraZeneca ramps up neuroscience research collaborations

Acquires assets from Link Medicine and will work with academic scientists in Alzheimer's

Astrazeneca building
AstraZeneca continues to look for external partners to boost its neuroscience research efforts and has acquired a portfolio of assets from Link Medicine and signed an academic collaboration in Alzheimer's.

The deals, along with the early-stage Alzheimer's drug AZ licensed in May, follow the company's decision earlier this year to significantly pare back its internal neuroscience research.

AZ still considers the therapy area to be a core focus but, acknowledging that finding new treatments has “proved elusive”, decided in February to create a 'virtual' neuroscience Innovative Medicines (iMed) unit as part of a major global restructure that will see 7,300 jobs lost.

Consequently it decided to halt R&D work at Södertälje in Sweden and Montreal in Canada, which both focus on neuroscience, and staff the new unit with a team of just 40-50 company scientists led by Dr Mike Poole.

AZ's new Alzheimer's collaboration will see it work with four academic research laboratories to study apolipoprotein E4 genotype (ApoE), a major risk factor for Alzheimer's, in a first-of-its-kind alliance the company has dubbed A5.

ApoE is considered second only to age as a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer's disease. However, drug discovery efforts involving ApoE have been hampered by challenging biology and a lack of in-vivo models.

Led by Dr Steven Paul from Weill Cornell Medical College the A5 alliance will focus on identification, validation, and risk reduction of drug targets for treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

In addition to Dr Paul, AZ will also work with Dr David Holtzman of Washington University in St Louis, Dr Peter Davies of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and Dr Cheryl Wellington of the University of British Columbia.

Dr Paul said: "The formation of the A5 alliance represents a unique academic-industry partnership whereby these Alzheimer's disease experts will link their labs together and work closely with a pharmaceutical company to unlock the science behind ApoE in order to discover new disease-modifying drug targets.”

Under the terms of the alliance, AZ will fund the academic research and members of the company's Neuroscience iMed unit will contribute programme management and scientific expertise. The academic alliance members will contribute their disease area knowledge and expertise, as well as lead specific aspects of the research programme in their laboratories.

Link Medicine deal

At the same time AZ has acquired a portfolio of neuroscience assets from Massachusetts-based biopharma company Link Medicine that it hopes will eventually help it develop disease-modifying drugs.

The company, which was home to AZ's Neuroscience iMed leader Dr Mike Poole until February, focuses its R&D efforts focus on autophagy.

The intracellular process clears and recycles mis-folded proteins and is being used to develop a range new potential treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzehimer's.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but AZ said it involved “multiple small molecule assets in clinical and preclinical stage” that target the enzyme farnesyltransferase and modulate autophagy.

Dr Menelas Pangalos, executive vice president of Innovative Medicines at AZ, said: "AstraZeneca is committed to neuroscience drug discovery and development, and is always looking for new ways to share cost, risk and reward with other research partners.

“This agreement provides us with an entry into an exciting and vital piece of research into autophagy - an area of considerable importance in neuroscience."

Under the terms of the agreement, AZ will make specified upfront and milestone payments and will assume all of the programme's research and development activities.

13th July 2012

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