LONDON British academic researchers have secured 7 million pounds ($11 million) of funding from the country's Medical Research Council (MRC) to investigate a range of potential new drugs made available free-of-charge by AstraZeneca.
The move is the latest example of how the pharmaceutical industry is experimenting with new research models involving greater collaboration with external partners.
The MRC money will pay for work on 15 research projects covering Alzheimer's, cancer and other diseases. Eight will involve clinical trials of potential new drugs and seven will focus on earlier work in laboratory and animal models.
Scientists were encouraged to apply for MRC funding after Britain's second-biggest drugmaker made available a total of 22 compounds. AstraZeneca did initial tests on these chemicals but then put them on hold for a variety of reasons.
Should something promising come out of the MRC-funded work, the financial benefits will be shared between AstraZeneca and the academic institution which made the discovery, the MRC and AstraZeneca said on Wednesday.
Many drug companies are looking outside their own walls for help in developing new medicines and the concept has been embraced particularly enthusiastically by AstraZeneca, which has suffered a lean period of in-house discovery.
Earlier this year, for example, the group decided to slash its internal neuroscience research staff to around 40 from more than 800, creating instead a "virtual" research unit for brain disorders.
AstraZeneca's recent poor track record in research contributed to the early departure of former CEO David Brennan on June 1 and his replacement by Pascal Soriot on October 1. ($1 = 0.6241 British pounds)
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)
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