AstraZeneca has signed two research pacts in the UK, one for eye disease and the other involves handing over a preclinical cancer compound to charity for further development.

First up, an agreement has been inked with University College London to develop regenerative medicines for diabetic retinopathy (DR). Under the terms of the three-year collaboration, the partners hope to "identify new therapeutic tools that can modulate the regenerative capacity of stem cells". Marcus Fruttiger of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and leader of the project, said these tools could be used "either to manufacture transplantable material or to directly stimulate new cell growth in the eye to help restore or improve the vision of those with DR."

Alan Lamont, director of sciences and technology alliances at AstraZeneca, said the firm believes "regenerative medicine offers new opportunities to develop innovative, more effective and safer therapies". Over the next few years, stem cell technology is likely to contribute "to a measurable improvement in our ability to discover and develop candidate drugs", he added, and to "target those drugs to the right patient population through a better understanding of the disease process". Financial details were not disclosed.

Meantime, Cancer Research UK has reached an agreement with AstraZeneca to take AZD-3965, a first-of-its-kind experimental drug to potentially treat a range of cancers, into clinical trials. The compound targets the monocarboxylate transporter 1 which is essential in cell metabolism.  

CR UK will fund the Phase I/IIa clinical trial of up to 60 patients to start in 2011 and AstraZeneca can decide if it wishes to develop the drug further based on the trial's data. If it chooses not to, the rights will be given to the charity's commercial arm "to secure an alternative partner and ensure the drug has every possible chance of reaching patients" and in either case, CR UK will receive a share of any future revenues generated by the treatment.

Les Hughes, global vice president of cancer research at the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, said: that "if we are going to be successful in delivering new treatments, it will be important for charities, academics and industry to work collaboratively". He added that the deal will "enable a compound with a very exciting mechanism to be evaluated in patients using CR UK’s extensive clinical network. We look forward to this collaboration adding a new dimension to AstraZeneca’s pipeline".

Nigel Blackburn of CR UK’s Drug Development Office, said “our strong links with industry have enabled us to make great progress by launching this clinical trial of a promising compound that without this partnership may have remained on a shelf gathering dust".