AstraZeneca digs into new Cambridge home with MRC drug deal
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[March 31, 2014]
By Ben Hirschler
CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters)
— AstraZeneca, which will
complete its move to Cambridge by 2016, is already putting down
roots in the ecosystem of the university city as it seeks to
revitalize its drug research.
Britain's second-biggest pharmaceuticals group said
on Monday it had struck an unique deal with the state-funded Medical
Research Council (MRC) under which academic scientists will work
alongside its staff at its new Cambridge site.
Transplanting AstraZeneca to the university city in the east of
England forms the centerpiece of a $2.5 billion restructuring plan
by Chief Executive Pascal Soriot, who hopes closer links with
academia will spark ideas and innovation.
AstraZeneca has suffered a dry period in drug discovery in recent
years and badly needs to find new medicines to replace blockbusters
like Nexium for heartburn and Crestor for high cholesterol that will
lose patent protection in a few years.
The initial five-year MRC collaboration, which was welcomed by
British science minister David Willetts, may provide part of the
answer by finding early leads for new drugs.
Within the AstraZeneca MRC UK Centre for Lead Discovery, the
academics will get access to more than 2 million compounds in
AstraZeneca's library and have the use of high-tech screening
equipment to study diseases and possible treatments.
Their research proposals will be assessed by the MRC, which will
fund up to 15 projects a year and AstraZeneca will have the first
option to license any resulting drug discovery programs.
Mike Snowden, head of discovery sciences at AstraZeneca, said the
MRC agreement was a "flagship" deal but the firm would also strike
other academic tie-ups from its new home base.
"The strategy is to share science," he said. "Cambridge is a hotspot
for bioscience. That's why we're moving there and it certainly makes
it easier to work with people like the MRC, who have their
Laboratory of Molecular Biology next to where we work."
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AstraZeneca's $500-million corporate headquarters and R&D center
in Cambridge will put some 2,000 staff within walking distance of
university scientists and academic labs when it is completed in two
In July, AstraZeneca agreed another deal with the university and
Cancer Research UK specifically to seek out new cancer-fighting
Other large drugmakers have built research outposts in life science
centers like Cambridge, Boston and San Francisco — but none have
undertaken such a wholesale move of operations.
The strategy is not without risks, especially if the upheaval
disrupts current research projects or results in key staff leaving
the company. A smooth transition is seen as a key test for CEO
Soriot as he tries to change the culture at AstraZeneca to put
science at the center of its activities.
AstraZeneca currently has a limited research presence in Cambridge
via its biotech unit, MedImmune. Most R&D has been carried out at a
site in Alderley Park, near Manchester, which AstraZeneca is now
(Editing by Sophie Walker)
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