AstraZeneca has strengthened its interest in China via a joint venture between its biotechnology arm MedImmune and Chinese firm WuXi AppTec, which seeks to accelerate the development of a new medicine for inflammatory conditions in the country.

Under the JV, in which the companies will have equal ownership, MedImmune's experimental, fully-human monoclonal antibody MEDI-5117 will be developed for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

MedImmune will provide technical and development expertise, while WuXi AppTec will provide local regulatory, manufacturing, pre-clinical and clinical trial support.

The terms of the deal have given AZ/MedImmune the option to snap up the full rights to commercialise MEDI5117, otherwise the JV will have the right to do so. 

WuXi AppTec stands to receive revenue based on services provided to the JV, while MedImmune will get various milestone payments as the program advances, the firms said.

The move should speed the drug's path to market in China, if development is successful, as the Chinese government insists on the local manufacture of medicines that have not yet received approval elsewhere in the world.

According to Bahija Jallal, head of research at MedImmune, bringing Wuxi on board could speed up a launch in the country by four to six years earlier than if the group went down the traditional route of applying for import licence following approval in other markets, Reuters reports.