A ‘win, win, win’ for public-private partners

AstraZeneca launches innovative partnership with U.K.’s Medical Research Council for discontinued drug compounds

Lori Lesko
LONDON—In a landmark private-public partnership, globalbiopharmaceutical business AstraZeneca PLC has agreed to make 22 discontinueddrug compounds available for free to medical researchers on projects funded bythe United Kingdom's Medical Research Council (MRC).
The collaboration between pharma and academia acknowledgesthe complex and costly process of drug development by giving U.K. researchersaccess to compounds and funds to explore new treatment opportunities throughbetter understanding of disease mechanisms. AstraZeneca and MRC Technology, thecommercial arm of the MRC, are screening up to 150,000 compounds—made up of100,000 from AstraZeneca's collection and about 50,000 from the MRClibrary—against selected biological targets. The initial screening will be inthe areas of cancer, cardiovascular, neuroscience and infection. Both entitieswill retain ownership of their respective compounds, and a joint committee willreview the results and decide how to go ahead with any compounds that showpromise as potential drug candidates.
The proposals reviewed by MRC will focus on new, previouslyunexplored areas of clinical research that lie outside the scope of current,core AstraZeneca development plans, and do not replicate previous or existingstudies. Clive Morris, vice president and head of new opportunities atAstraZeneca's iMed innovation units, said although all the compounds are stillowned by AstraZeneca, any new intellectual property "would belong to theacademic institution." He noted that if the drugmaker "wanted to move thesecompounds forward, we would negotiate. We'll provide compounds, data andexpertise. We see this as true collaboration, rather than as a hand-offapproach."
The MRC is inviting proposals from the U.K. academiccommunity to use the drugs in new disease areas, with $15.7 million to be madeavailable to fund between 10 and 20 research projects across a range of humandiseases.
New research produced by the collaboration will also be madeavailable to the broader scientific community.
The broad scope and scale of the collaboration, togetherwith a lack of restrictions on the areas to be investigated, provides a keydifferentiation from other industry-academia collaborations both within theU.K. and globally, AstraZeneca has stated.
"I don't think [the compounds] have necessarily had all thevalue flogged out of them," Sir John Savill, MRC's CEO, stated in a Dec. 5 newsrelease. "This is a win-win-win for the academic community, AstraZeneca whichconnects itself to academics and patients."
Nearly all of the agents remain patent-protected and offerpotential as therapies for diseases including Alzheimer's and cardiovascularconditions, according to AstraZeneca. Some of the drugs have been tested inhumans and others only in animals, while one, called saracatanib, has beenstudied in late-stage trials for the treatment of solid tumors. The companyhalted development on some of the compounds either because the forecastedcommercial market was too small or the treatments fell outside of its strategicfocus.
"This is currently a unique initiative with the MRC in termsof breadth and scope," says Laura Woodin, an AstraZeneca spokeswoman. "We'renot aware of collaborations of similar scope between other companies andacademic groups/institutions."
From the start, MRC was thought to be the best partner forthe endeavor, Woodin adds. The MRC, which has fostered 29 Nobel Prize winners,has supported high-quality science for 100 years and is active in severaldisease areas.
"To have the best chance of making progress towarddelivering novel treatments to patients, we need to partner with the best andbrightest minds in science from biotech, academia, governments, non-profits andothers who share our passion for discovering and developing new medicines thatmake a difference," Woodin tells ddn."Our exclusive focus on prescription medicines enables us to apply a long-termstrategy to seeking innovation in the future of healthcare. Our success to datehas been based on developing medicines derived from both internal and externalsources, and we recognize the value that we gain through our partnerships." 
Dr. Chris Watkins, head of translational research, says theMRC "has a successful track record of working with industry, but this agreementis the first of its kind in terms of giving academic researchers unprecedentedaccess to late-stage compounds, some of which have already been through Phase Iclinical trials."
In 2009 and 2010, the MRC spent approximately $985 millionto support and advance medical research in three main ways: "through our ownresearch facilities, by funding research centers in partnership withuniversities and by providing research grants and career awards to scientistsin U.K. universities and hospitals," Watkins says.
The partnership "grants our academic institutions access toan exquisite list of compounds, and access to funding to do theresearch—invaluable for understanding the underlying mechanisms of humandisease," Watkins tells ddn. "Thedistinguishing feature of the initiative is the combination of compounds andfunding. Researchers might have been able to access the compounds by goingdirectly to AstraZeneca, but may not have been able to do the research due to alack of funding."
Simon Denegri, chairman of INVOLVE, the U.K.'s nationaladvisory group on public involvement, stated: "This collaboration is excitingnews, not just for scientists, but for patients as well. Although it may takesome time to unearth their true potential, these compounds could hold the keyto a better understanding of a whole range of diseases including rarerconditions, and may lay the foundations for the treatments of tomorrow. I hopewe'll look back on this day as a landmark moment, which set the tone forindustry and academia collaborations of the future and a huge step towardsmedical discoveries that will improve the lives of millions of people," hesays.

AstraZeneca acquires Chinese generics company
CONGHUA CITY, China—AstraZeneca PLC also announced lastmonth an agreement to acquire Guangdong BeiKang Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., aprivately owned generics manufacturing company based in the Guangdong province. 
The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of2012. Financial terms were not disclosed.
AstraZeneca said the deal gives it access to a portfolio ofinjectable medicines used to treat infections that the pharma will makeavailable to patients in China.
Following completion of the acquisition, AstraZeneca will beresponsible for the manufacture and commercialization of these medicines.Effectiveness of the agreement is contingent on the approval of certainregulatory authorities, including the approval of the Ministry of Commerce inChina.
Since first establishing a presence in China in 1993,AstraZeneca has invested around $500 million in the country.

Lori Lesko

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