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AstraZeneca signs UK research deal

Published on 16/05/14 at 09:01am
AstraZeneca's Cambridge Biomedical campus

The UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) and AstraZeneca will join forces to help discover new medicines at an early stage of development.

Under the planned collaboration, the MRC LMB – a part of Cambridge University – and AstraZeneca would also share knowledge and technologies as part of the potential agreement, which would see AstraZeneca contribute up to £6 million ($10 million) and MRC LMB up to £3 million over a period of five years, as well as in-kind scientific input.

The fund will support a range of pre-clinical research projects aimed at better understanding fundamental biology and disease.

Decisions on which projects will receive support from the fund will be made jointly by both groups.

Hugh Pelham, director of the LMB, says: “This is a very exciting opportunity, in which AstraZeneca and the LMB would be able to share knowledge and resources to better understand the fundamental processes that underlie normal function and disease.

“The creation of a joint fund would further strengthen our existing and long standing relationship with AstraZeneca, allowing our scientists to work together, sharing ideas and expertise for the benefit of patients.”

Menelas Pangalos, executive VP of innovative medicines and early development at AstraZeneca, adds: “The aim of this joint fund will be to encourage truly innovative scientific thinking. We want to enable and encourage our scientists to push the boundaries of science, on the door step of our Cambridge headquarters, with one of the best scientific institutions in the world.”

Projects are likely to involve scientists from the two organisations working side by side, either within the LMB building, on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, or in the AstraZeneca research facilities.

Projects supported by the fund would not be specifically targeted towards drug development, but would feed into the existing research and development activities of the two organisations, with the results published in peer-reviewed journals, according to the firm.

Silicon Fen

AZ is currently in the middle of a major £330 million move to Cambridge, with its biologics arm MedImmune based just outside the city, in an area known as the ‘Silicon Fen’.

This new deal is just one of the latest between the firm and a Cambridge-based organisation as it looks to make the Fens its new HQ in Britain. This come after AZ moved from Alderley Park in March, with the loss of around 600 jobs.

Throughout the past year, AstraZeneca has announced that it is teaming up with the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Oncology to evaluate a new technology to monitor tumour activity and response through blood tests rather than biopsies.

The manufacturer will also work with Cancer Research, the university, Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge University Hospitals to test the potential effectiveness of olaparib and AZD2014 in high-risk prostate cancer patients.

Finally, AstraZeneca will collaborate with the Babraham Institute, Cancer Research, the university and Addenbrooke’s again to look at new therapies for pancreatic cancer, trying to identify the best drug combinations for selumetinib in pre-clinical models.

AZ should take full residence in its new Cambridge base from 2016.

Takeover bid

But this has been put in jeopardy by a takeover bid from Pfizer, in a deal which could be worth more than £63 billion, as concerns grow that AZ scientists could be axed, and its future move to Cambridge potentially in doubt.

The Anglo-Swedish firm has rebuffed several advances but this week sent mixed messages during a debate with MPs in the UK.

Its chief executive Pascal Soriot has for weeks now stressed the independent strategy that he thinks will be the best long-term policy for his company, but admitted to the Parliamentary committee on Tuesday that it would be down to the shareholders to see if a deal went through.

But in fortuitous timing, AZ has released a number of positive trial results this month ahead of the ASCO cancer conference, with data from its experimental lung cancer medicine showing the drug reduced tumours in an early stage study.

Its biologics arms MedImmune also signed a deal with Incyte this week to discover and develop new oncology immunotherapies, strengthening its independent position.

Pfizer has also been signing new deals, and earlier this week penned a five-year research collaboration with several top British universities to hunt for new treatments for rare disease.

This pact also involves Cambridge University, as well as: Imperial College London, King’s College London, Queen Mary University London, University College London and Oxford University.

Pfizer must make another bid for AZ by 26 May under British merger rules, or face waiting another six months before approaching the company again.

Ben Adams

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