Three days after the firm told PharmaTimes World News that it was looking for ways to make its R&D efforts more efficient, AstraZeneca has confirmed that it is spinning off its gastrointestinal research operations in Sweden.

The new entity, called Albireo, will be financed by “a syndicate of growth capital firms”, led by Nomura Phase4 Ventures and including TVM Capital and Scottish Widows Investment Partnership, “all specialist investors in the healthcare markets”, the Anglo-Swedish firm said. The company has raised $27 million in its first closing and anticipates receiving up to $40 million in a Series A financing round.

David Chiswell, who will be Albireo’s executive chairman, told PharmaTimes World News that the rationale of setting up the new firm dates back to the end of 2006 when AstraZeneca announced it would cease research on gastrointestinal disease and focus on respiratory, cancer and infectious diseases. Dr Chiswell, founder of Cambridge Antibody Technology (which was bought by AstraZeneca) said he was approached by the latter firm a couple of months ago and was attracted to the job at the Gothenburg-based firm because of “the quality of people [there] who really know what they are doing”.

Albireo will be staffed by “several researchers with extensive experience in AstraZeneca’s GI research area”, the company said, and will start life having secured one clinical and a number of pre-clinical GI programmes. When asked about the compound in the clinic, Dr Chiswell said it is at a very early stage of development and is for the treatment of very severe constipation.

He also told PharmaTimes World News that the level of financing already secured gives Albireo “a real chance” of developing a decent pipeline. AstraZeneca is keeping a “significant minority stake” and Dr Chiswell would not be drawn as to how significant that may be, but the drug major will have a seat on the Albireo board.

Analysts said the move makes sense at a time when pharmaceutical firms are looking to cut costs and moving non-core projects into biotechnology spin-offs is a good move especially if AstraZeneca has right of refusal on any innovative products that may emerge. Other companies had trodden the spin-off path before, notably Roche through Basilea and Actelion, and other firms may follow suit.