The UK’s Medical Research Council has committed an extra £7 million worth of funding for research projects surrounding a number of drug compounds being shared by AstraZeneca.
Nearly a year ago the firm announced it would make 22 of its compounds available free of charge to UK academia in 2012, as part of a tie-up with the Medical Research Council.
Here, academic researchers competed for a share of £10 million worth of funding to look at the compounds in new disease areas, with the goal of speeding up the delivery of medicines to patients. It has been a similar process for the new investment round, which will see 15 projects funded by the MRC over the next year.
Scientists will use the 22 compounds to study a broad range of conditions from common diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and lung disease through to rarer conditions such as motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophies. Eight of the projects will involve clinical trials of potential new therapies, and seven will focus on earlier work in laboratory and animal models.
The MRC-AstraZeneca collaboration was announced by the prime minister David Cameron in December 2011 as part of the government’s strategy for UK life sciences.
The Anglo-Swedish firm will retain rights over the chemical composition of the compounds, but new research findings will be owned by the academic institution. The average sector cost of bringing a new medicine to market was £630 million last year, so making compounds available to outside researchers while retaining some rights over them makes sense for AstraZeneca.
It may also be a way for the firm to improve its own research links, as if potential projects duplicate or overlap AstraZeneca’s active development programmes, they cannot be funded by the MRC - but the company may choose to work with the researchers directly.
The new funding boost was welcomed by the BioIndustry Association, whose chief executive said: “Today’s funding announcement signals the beginning of an exciting coming together of academia, industry and government to create new pathways to develop novel therapies for a range of serious conditions.
“The prospect of de-risking private investment in this way and supporting the development of these products for patients through innovative ways of working shows how the biopharmaceutical sector is responding creatively to the challenge of getting more treatments to market.”
After looking at over 100 expressions of interest, the MRC received 23 full funding proposals. The applications were assessed by the MRC, independently of AstraZeneca through peer review, and the 15 successful proposals were selected on the basis of “scientific quality and importance”.
In the end, the projects were awarded to: The University of Manchester, University of Leeds, Royal Veterinary College, University of Sheffield (two projects), UCL (University College London – three projects), University of Glasgow, University of Birmingham (two projects), University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, and the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, Harwell.