AstraZeneca has been talking about the importance of expanding its network of collaborations at the JPMorgan healthcare conference in San Francisco.

Blogging from the meeting, Shaun Grady, vice president of strategic partnering and business development at the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, noted that AstraZeneca and its MedImmune unit have a team of 60 "scouting for opportunities that fit our therapeutic and commercial focus". He added that the firm has scheduled a record number of meetings at the event, approximately 320 in total.

Mr Grady writes that "it is essential to recognise that the delivery of innovative medicines that people really need cannot be done in isolation". More than 40% of AstraZeneca's R&D pipeline is sourced from external partnerships and acquisitions and in 2012 alone, the strategic partnering business development unit "has coordinated and led cross-functional teams to secure approximately 80 industry and academic collaborations".

He adds that "we are interested in forming partnerships across all different stages of development", noting the role of the firm's Innovative Medicines Units (iMeds) which focus on the discovery and early phase projects in five therapy areas; cardiovascular-gastrointestinal, infection, neuroscience, oncology and respiratory-inflammation. Mr Grady also pointed out the work at the 'new opportunities iMed', which focuses on areas outside AstraZeneca’s current disease area focus, referred to as the ‘white space’.

The majority of the company's late-stage portfolio is now sourced through external collaborations "and we are aiming to derive an even more significant proportion of our portfolio from new alliances and partnerships". Mr Grady cited the example of recently-acquired Ardea Biosciences and its late-stage gout drug and an agreement with Amgen to jointly develop five monoclonal antibodies.

He goes on to note the findings of a recent survey put together by the Boston Consulting Group, where AstraZeneca has been ranked as ‘best-in-class’ for its partnering capabilities and the top company for ‘accessibility of its business development team’. Mr Grady concludes by saying that when evaluating opportunities, "we focus on quality by consistently asking five key questions and ensuring we have the right target, the right tissue, the right exposure, the right patient and the right commercial approach".