AstraZeneca signs malaria drug research agreement

Mon Jun 28, 2010 4:48am EDT

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* JV will allow screening of 500,000 compounds

* Malaria kills up to 1 million people a year

* Shares up 0.2 percent

LONDON, June 28 (Reuters) - Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca (AZN.L) said it was opening up around 500,000 of its chemical compounds to the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) to help speed up development of mosquito-born disease treatments.

The joint venture will allow MMV to try to identify promising compounds with the potential to treat malaria, including drug resistant strains of the disease, AstraZeneca said in a statement on Monday.

It said any promising compounds identified through the screening process would then become starting points for antimalarial drug discovery projects and go to Astra's research and development unit in Bangalore, India, with the aim of identifying possible drugs for clinical testing.

"Our experience with infection research, and indeed with all of our R&D efforts, has taught us that we will only find solutions to today's global health challenges through collaborative efforts," AstraZeneca's Chief Executive Officer David Brennan said in a statement.

"Opening up our compound library to MMV is an important step toward addressing the enormous unmet medical needs of the developing world."

Malaria is a parasitic infection transmitted by mosquitoes that kills almost 1 million people a year, most of them children in Africa. Around 40 percent of the world's population is at risk of malaria, with about 250 million cases every year.

MMV is a not-for-profit public-private partnership which seeks to reduce the malaria burden with the development and delivery of effective and affordable antimalarial drugs.

Under the terms of the agreement, scientists working with MMV will screen 500,000 compounds in AstraZeneca's library for activity against P. falciparum, the most lethal of the malaria parasites.

A spokesman for Astra said intellectual property of the compounds would remain with the drugmaker. (Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Mike Nesbit)

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