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AstraZeneca cements links with Cambridge University

Agrees a series of collaborations in areas such as Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis

AstraZeneca AZ global R&D corporate HQ
The planned look for AZ's Cambridge Biomedical Campus

AstraZeneca is forging ever closer ties with the University of Cambridge ahead of the opening of its new global R&D centre in the city in 2016, with four new collaborations announced today.

The new deals are part of what the company describes as an initiative to build a "permeable research infrastructure" in Cambridge, which will also be the location of a recently-announced joint cancer research facility which will see the company's scientists working side-by-side with their academic counterparts.

Last year, AZ announced that it planned to move its headquarters to Cambridge and spend £330m ($525m) on the new R&D facility, saying its decision "underscores Cambridge's global importance as a location for biopharmaceutical R&D". It has also set up a joint lab in Cambridge with medical charity Cancer Research UK.

The first of the new collaborations is focusing on neurodegenerative diseases, and will take the form of a three-year collaboration between AZ, its biologics unit MedImmune and the University with initial efforts directed at diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis (MS).

The academic partners will provide expertise in disease biology, experimental models and tissue samples while AZ and MedImmune will contribute molecular tools, compound screening and drug development experience. The overall aim is to "address gaps in drug discovery, translational biomarkers and personalised healthcare approaches", according to the partners.

Prof Alastair Compston, professor of neurology at Cambridge University, said: "This strategic partnership will promote an increased understanding of disease mechanisms and enable work in basic neuroscience to address unmet therapeutic needs in a variety of serious neurodegenerative diseases.”

The other collaborations include a material transfer agreement (MTA) giving the university's researchers access to various compounds in AZ's cancer pipeline - including EGFR inhibitor AZD9291 for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), PARP inhibitor olaparib, mTOR inhibitor AZD2014 and AKT inhibitor AZD5363 - as well as joint PhD programmes.

Finally, MedImmune will support an entrepreneur-in-residence programme to help guide scientists at the university who want assistance commercialising their discoveries.

Like many of its peers in big pharma, such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Johnson & Johnson (J&J), AZ is increasingly setting up collaborations with external groups to complement and enrich its in-house R&D activities.

Mene Pangalos, AZ's executive vice president of innovative medicines and early development, said: "In a world where partnerships and collaborations drive medical innovation, deepening our roots in the vibrant Cambridge life science ecosystem offers compelling advantages for AZ."

Article by
Phil Taylor

16th October 2014

From: Research

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