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AZ teams up with UK's MRC for discovery centre

Public-private facility will be based at the pharma company's Cambridge R&D site

AstraZeneca AZ research R&D 

AstraZeneca has continued its revamp of R&D by setting up a public-private partnership with the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) focused around a joint research facility.

The new Centre for Lead Discovery will be located at AZ's R&D site in Cambridge and will provide academic researchers with "unprecedented access" to the company's in-house compound library and compound screening capabilities, it said.

Professor Sir John Savill, chief executive of the MRC, described the five-year agreement as a "unique collaboration" between industry and academia and represents a "long term investment in UK infrastructure".

The research facility will focus on early-stage drug discovery and understanding the mechanisms behind disease, and will handle up to 15 screening projects a year - selected and funded by the MRC - across a broad range of therapeutic categories.

The deal is a significant increase on the partners' previous work together and, the MRC said, should see its first projects get underway next year.

AZ gets first rights to discuss licensing of any compounds selected for further development but, if it does not exercise that right, the scientists are free to negotiate with other companies.

The pharma industry has been progressively moving away from focusing only on in-house R&D to a more outward looking approach, trying various approaches to tap into the expertise and creativity of academic researchers.

Among recent examples, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) now runs a drug-hunting competition, in which it encourages scientists to submit proposals for drug discovery projects and offers resources and expertise - plus potentially lucrative partnerships - for winning candidates.

Taking a different tack, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has started setting up a series of regional innovation centres in close proximity to biomedical R&D clusters to give it visibility of work done by scientists, offer assistance to promising projects and harvesting those that are most promising.

In all these cases the gain for the pharma company is access to new projects without having to fund so much expensive early-stage research in-house, while scientists get access to equipment and drug discovery expertise that may be hard to tap into within an academic institution.

"This major strategic alliance with the MRC is the first of its kind," said Menelas Pangalo, executive vice president of innovative medicines and early development at AZ.

"Through this collaboration AZ and the MRC will push the boundaries of science to accelerate drug discovery and the development of new medicines here in the UK," he added.

AZ plans to open its new R&D campus and headquarters in Cambridge in 2016, having decided relocate from Cheshire last year.

Article by
Phil Taylor

31st March 2014

From: Research



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