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AZ names leader for new ‘virtual’ neuroscience research unit

The unit is being set up as part of restructuring that will see large numbers of research positions axed

AstraZeneca (AZ) has appointed Dr Mike Poole to lead its new 'virtual' neuroscience Innovative Medicines unit.

The unit is being set up as part of a major restructure that will see large numbers of research positions axed and a new approach taken to neuroscience research, a therapy area that has so far proved challenging for the company.

Dr Pool joins AZ from Massachusetts-based neuroscience research company Link Medicine and prior to that held senior neuroscience research posts at Wyeth and Pfizer.

He also served as chief medical officer at Hypnion, a biotechnology company that was acquired by Lilly in 2006.

At AZ he will be responsible for large and small molecule projects and the company said he would help it “pioneer a new approach to neuroscience drug discovery and development”.

Dr Menelas Pangalos, AZ's executive vice president of Innovative Medicines, said: “AstraZeneca is deeply committed to neuroscience research and the discovery and development of new treatments for a full range of neurological diseases including Alzheimer's, neuropathic pain, depression and Parkinson's.

“While many companies have exited or scaled back efforts in this high-risk area, we will step up the search for new medicines to help people with neurological and psychiatric diseases. We are confident this new approach will enable us to tap the most exciting science and discoveries that exist in labs around the world.”

The pharma company last week announced details of a huge restructuring exercise that will see thousands of jobs cut as it bids to improve productivity and strengthen its commercial and research operations.

A particular focus in R&D, where 2,200 positions will be cut, is to try a new approach to searching for new neuroscience drugs.

Acknowledging the hunt for new treatments has so far “proved elusive”, AZ is setting set up a 'virtual' research unit, which Dr Poole now helms, rather than exit the therapy area altogether.

Dr Poole will recruit a small team of 40-50 AZ scientists who will be based in Boston, US and Cambridge, UK and they will conduct their research through an external network of academia and industry partners.

The new, streamlined model will impact not just the company's existing research workforce, but also its current sites, and R&D work will halt at Södertälje in Sweden and Montreal in Canada, which both focus on neuroscience.

The Montreal facility will be closed entirely, but Södertälje, which is also home to AZ's largest manufacturing site and the base of its Scandinavian commercial business, will remain open.

9th February 2012

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