Contract research organisations (CROs) are emerging as key beneficiaries as AstraZeneca (AZ) seeks to ease concerns over the state of its R&D pipeline by calling on external expertise to drive efficiencies in drug discovery and development.

The UK-based company has announced two strategic partnerships – with Charles River Laboratories (CRL) and Pharmaron – over the last few days that involve outsourcing and collaboration in areas such as drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK), efficacy screening and safety assessment.

The most recent alliance is with CRL, which has inked a three-year agreement positioning it as AZ’s preferred strategic partner for outsourced regulated safety assessment and development DMPK services.

The relationship extends into 2015 and AstraZeneca already started transferring programmes to the US-based provider of drug discovery and development services earlier this year. This process is expected to be completed by early 2013.

According to Charles River, incremental sales under the agreement with AZ should contribute around 1% to the US company’s overall net sales next year.

Flexible platform

Tapping into CRL’s capabilities will “enable AstraZeneca to create a flexible research platform to deliver innovative health solutions”, said James Foster, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Charles River Laboratories.

The two organisations will “work hand-in-hand” to deliver toxicology, safety pharmacology and development DMPK studies “in support of our efforts to deliver safe and effective new treatments to patients more efficiently”, commented Stefan Platz, vice president, Global Safety Assessment for AstraZeneca.

Enlisting a “trusted strategic partner” means AZ will be able to enhance its resource flexibility while “simplifying the way we work”, he added.

Pharmaron alliance

The CRL announcement came hard on the heels of AZ forging a drug discovery partnership with Pharmaron, the US-based CRO that formed a long-term alliance with Merck Serono (Merck KGaA) in 2011.

Under that arrangement, Merck Serono opened a new R&D Laboratory on Pharmaron’s drug discovery services campus in the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Area of China.

The Beijing campus is also a focal point of the multi-year agreement with AZ, under which Pharmaron will provide AstraZeneca with discovery services in the fields of chemistry, DMPK and efficacy screening.  

Pharmaron will take on these services using a team of several hundred scientists working in dedicated research laboratories at the CRO’s Beijing drug-discovery service centre.  

No financial details were released on the deal, which will support AZ’s global Innovative Medicines Units.

More efficiency

“The co-location of screening and chemistry services at a single partner is expected to help AstraZeneca scientists drive their drug discovery programmes with greater efficiency,” Pharmaron said.