LONDON—Global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and technology transfer organization MRC Technology (MRCT) have renewed their strategic collaboration agreement, initialized in 2010, which centers around the identification of novel drug targets for discovery research from among the two companies’ combined collection of more than 200,000 compounds.
Under the terms of the collaboration, MRC Technology will be responsible for screening the combined library, hit validation and optimization of selected compounds, as agreed by a joint steering committee established by the previous collaboration agreement between the two companies. AstraZeneca and MRC Technology each retain ownership of their respective compounds. Individual projects chosen to go forward will trigger option fees with further research and license agreements negotiated at that time. Further financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
The collaboration will allow the two companies to select novel targets with potential to become potent and selective therapeutics for diseases in oncology, inflammation and diabetes. In the revised agreement with MRC Technology, targets will be brought into the alliance within AstraZeneca’s core areas of drug discovery interest.
“Early de-risking of the target by MRCT will create the opportunity for AstraZeneca’s Innovative Medicines units to decide whether to partner or license the project ready for lead optimization, with enhanced target validation and tractable lead series,” says Peter Simpson, director of screening sciences, AstraZeneca. “Assay development, HTS, hit-to-lead and target linkage to disease work sits within MRCT. AstraZeneca provides technical assistance and scientific advice where this is helpful, including computational chemistry and compound management for screening.”
The previous collaboration allowed AstraZeneca to screen the combined compound libraries of the two companies for five biological targets in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular, neuroscience and infection; MRC Technology was allowed to choose five additional targets to explore.
“It was a pilot project that was expected to run for 18 months or the selection of five targets,” says Dr. John Kelly, associate director of business development at MRC Technology.
According to Simpson, during the previous agreement from 2010 to 2013, AstraZeneca nominated interesting but high-risk targets proposed by MRCT into the collaboration, such as PNKP, Mnk and PAICS for oncology. MRCT nominated targets into the collaboration including GalR2 positive allosteric modulator for pain, ERCC1 and RuvBL12 for oncology and MC2 for Cushing’s syndrome. For all of these projects, the assay development, screening and early chemistry were pursued by MRC Technology with active scientific input from AstraZeneca scientists.
“One program from initial screening was formally partnered [Mnk in oncology]; however, AstraZeneca has decided not to pursue it,” says Simpson. MRC Technologies has expressed continued interest in developing the program, and AstraZeneca is currently in the process of granting MRCT the licenses necessary to continue it. No other formal projects have reached the formal partnering stage from the previous agreement.
The initial collaboration came about after MRC Technology approached AstraZeneca and other pharmaceutical companies about the possibility of sharing their compound collections. AstraZeneca has a long-standing relationship with MRC Technology as part of its global partnership strategy to collaborate with key translational centers.
The partnership brings together AstraZeneca’s strength in drug discovery and development with MRC Technology’s close links to an extensive network of academic investigators around the world. Many targets uncovered by academia are proposed to MRCT for drug discovery projects. As such, MRC Technology is able to deliver network and scouting activity as well as professional assay development and screening. AstraZeneca’s in-house chemistry and biology groups are able to advise and contribute relevant experimental data to support drug discovery programs.
“By renewing a partnership with MRCT under revised terms, we enhance our global network of relationships alongside NEOMED in Canada, Lead Discovery Center GmbH in Germany and the U.S.-led Academic Drug Discovery Consortium to bring AZ early, high-risk/high-reward targets,” says Simpson.
“By continuing to work together, we will generate more opportunities to translate early-stage academic research into potential new therapies,” Justin Bryans, MRC Technology’s director of drug discovery, said in a media release announcing the renewal of the collaboration.
AstraZeneca is a global biopharmaceutical business headquartered in London that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialization of prescription medicines. Its portfolio of products covers diverse disease areas including cancer, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infection, neuroscience, respiratory and inflammation. AstraZeneca operates in more than 100 countries and generated revenues of more than $25 billion in 2013.
MRC Technology is an independent life-science technology transfer charity that offers professional services to organizations in the academic, charity, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors. MRC Technology seeks to bridge the gap between basic medical research and commercialization, helping early discoveries progress to clinical application. Its services include intellectual property management and research and development for diagnostics, small molecules and therapeutic antibodies.