AstraZeneca has signed a collaboration with the USA's Vanderbilt University aimed at treating psychosis and other neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker has secured exclusive rights to compounds developed by the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD) that act on the M4 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor. Recent studies suggest that selective activators of subtypes of mAChRs improve certain cognitive impairments and behavioural disturbances associated with neuropsychiatric disorders.

The partners will continue to collaborate to identify additional M4 compounds and further develop existing compounds. Financial details have not been disclosed but Vanderbilt will receive an upfront fee, research funding for two years as well as success-based milestones and royalties.

Jeffrey Conn, VCNDD director, said "we believe the new model for furthering neuroscience drug discovery created by AstraZeneca (in February 2012) fits perfectly with the mission" of his organisation. He added that "ultimately it takes the pharmaceutical industry to fully develop and market a drug" and "anything we can do to increase the probability of success and build a clear rationale for AstraZeneca to invest in clinical trials for this area of unmet medical need will have tremendous impact".

Mike Poole, head of the AstraZeneca Neuroscience Innovative Medicines Unit, said the firm is "interested in pursuing research collaborations across all areas of neuroscience research where the science is compelling". Alzheimer's is a key area for the company and in July, AstraZeneca unveiled the 'A5 alliance', which will see the firm work with four leading US academic research laboratories to study a major risk factor for the disease, the apolipoprotein E4 genotype.