AstraZeneca is considering the sale of certain early-stage research projects looking at gastrointestinal disease, according to reports this morning in a Swedish newspaper.

Dagens Industri says that the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker is in talks with pharmaceutical firms and venture capital companies to divest up to five projects from its gastrointestinal unit. It claims that the sale of these projects could be worth 1 billion Swedish kroner, or more than $153 million.

The newspaper also noted that AstraZeneca may spin off the aforementioned unit and seek a separate stock exchange listing. The projects are based at the firm’s facility Molndal, near Gothenberg, where it employs 2,000 researchers. 500 of those work on gastro-intestinal products, says Dagens Industri.

An AstraZeneca spokesman told PharmaTimes World News that the firm had no comment to make on the story specifically, which quoted unnamed sources, though he did note that AstraZeneca is always looking for ways to make its research efforts more efficient and also increase shareholder value.

Seroquel XR filed in Europe
Meantime, AstraZeneca has submitted applications in the European Union for a once-daily extended-release version of Seroquel (quetiapine fumarate). The firm is looking to get approval for Seroquel XR for the treatment of manic and depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder.

Seroquel XR is currently approved in 16 countries, including the USA and several European countries, for the acute and maintenance treatment of schizophrenia in adults and this latest filing follows a similar request for marketing approval in the United States at the beginning of January.

AstraZeneca is facing the threat of generic competition to Seroquel, a major earner for the firm which had sales of $4 billion in 2007. If it can get patients to switch to Seroquel XR, that threat can be softened somewhat.

The EU filing comes just as AstraZeneca filed for a motion of summary judgment in the District Court of New in a US patent dispute with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries over Seroquel. Teva could launch a generic copy of the drug, but only the 25mg dose, as early as the end of March.