US-based drug development services company Aptuit is taking on the operations of a research centre in Italy that has been sidelined by GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) reduced commitment to discovery in the neurosciences.

The two companies have finalised an agreement whereby the 500 or so staff working at GSK’s Medicines Research Centre in Verona will transfer to Aptuit while the latter will provide GSK with R&D services from the Italian facilities. No financial terms were disclosed.

The deal both preserves employment and intellectual capital at the Verona site and enables Aptuit to join the growing ranks of contract research organisations (CROs) forming longer-term strategic partnerships with their clients. Tim Tyson, chief executive officer of Aptuit, described the arrangement as “an example of the developing new model of outsourced R&D collaborations”.

In February, GSK announced plans to cut its R&D infrastructure costs, a move that included reducing investment in the neurosciences and ceasing discovery research in selected areas such as pain, depression and anxiety. This had an impact on the Verona facility, as it has on GSK’s UK research site in Harlow, Essex.

Moncef Slaoui, chairman of GSK Research and Development, said the “innovative” approach to the Verona centre represented “a modern option for drug discovery expertise to remain as part of the science research community in Italy and offers the opportunity to assure continuity of employment for the GSK staff at the site. This arrangement would not have been possible without the input of the Italian government and unions”.

The transfer deal took effect on 1 July. It positions Aptuit as “an important member of GSK’s contract research organisation network”, expands the company’s global footprint to 19 locations and strengthens its hand in providing integrated drug development services to a global client base, the two companies noted.

Aptuit will combine its existing capabilities with the Verona Medicines Research Centre’s expertise in drug discovery, lead optimisation, development and manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients, and preclinical and clinical drug development. It gains capabilities in “high-value and strategically important therapeutic areas such as neurosciences discovery and development, as well as cardiovascular and infectious diseases”, Aptuit and GSK said.

Aptuit has been on a rapid growth track since its formation in December 2004. Backed by private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, the company already had a number of acquisitions under its belt, such as Quintiles’ Preclinical Services, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Clinical Trial Supplies units in 2005; Almedica International in the same year; both InfoPro Solutions and Pharma Consulting in 2006; and Evotec’s UK-based chemical development business in 2007.