AstraZeneca (AZ) has added its weight to the open-innovation agenda as an antidote to R&D pipeline attrition by forming a partnership with the UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) that will see academic researchers given a shot at finding new uses for 22 AZ-developed compounds.  

A call for research applications spanning a broad range of human diseases has been launched under the collaboration, with the MRC committing to award funds of up to £10 million for the best proposals. Academics in the UK will use the compounds to conduct studies aimed at better understanding of disease drivers, with a view to exploring new treatment possibilities.

The MRC will judge the research proposals and select those eligible for funding. There will be a two-stage process to identify projects that are feasible, do not duplicate existing studies and do not contribute directly to AstraZeneca’s existing development programmes.

Any proposals for the compounds that duplicate or overlap with AstraZeneca’s active development programmes will not be eligible for MRC funding, although AZ “may choose to work with the researchers directly”, the partners note.

Long, complex, expensive

Drug development is a “long, complex and expensive process”, and a number of compounds that go through early clinical trials are subsequently “put on hold for a variety of reasons”, they observe.  

New research arising from the collaboration will be published and communicated to the broader scientific community, the MRC and AZ say.

The distribution of intellectual property rights generated from the shared compounds will vary from project to project but “will be equitable and similar to those currently used in academically-led research”, they add.

More specifically, AstraZeneca will retain rights over the chemical composition of the compounds, “which have taken millions of pounds to develop so far”, while any new research findings will be owned by the academic institution in question.

New era

Sir John Savill, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said the initiative “marks a new era in medical discovery, open innovation and public-private collaboration”.

AZ’s chief executive officer, David Brennan, pointed to the UK’s “strong heritage of research excellence in life sciences” and noted that innovative collaborations “are playing a crucial role in finding ways to unlock the potential of new treatments”.