Alzheimer’s, cancer and rare disease research to benefit from landmark MRC-AstraZeneca compound collaboration

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Medical Research Council (MRC) today announces £7 million of funding for 15 research projects awarded through its groundbreaking collaboration with innovative pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which gave academic researchers unprecedented access to 22 chemical compounds.

Scientists will use the compounds to study a broad range of conditions from common diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and lung disease through to rarer conditions such as motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophies. Eight of the projects will involve clinical (human) trials of potential new therapies, and seven will focus on earlier work in laboratory and animal models. All the projects will increase our understanding of human disease and accelerate the search for innovative treatments.

The MRC-AstraZeneca compound collaboration was first announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2011 as part of the UK Life Sciences Strategy.

AstraZeneca made 22 of its chemical compounds available free-of-charge to scientists, who were encouraged to apply for MRC funding to use them in medical research with the ultimate aim of benefitting patients. AstraZeneca had conducted early trials of these compounds and validated their use for future research, but had put them on hold for further development. This collaboration extends the possible application of these compounds for use in new areas.

Professor Patrick Johnston, Chair of the MRC’s Translational Research Group, said:

“The quality of applications we received for the MRC-AstraZeneca collaboration was higher than we could ever have hoped and we are delighted to be funding 15 excellent projects. Thanks to the generosity of AstraZeneca, UK scientists will be able to carry out medical research that otherwise may never have been possible. Not only will this bring benefits for patients in the form of more effective medicines and a better understanding of disease, but it has also allowed academic researchers to forge new partnerships with industry, which will give rise to future collaboration across the life sciences sector.”

Martin Mackay, President of AstraZeneca Research & Development, said:

“AstraZeneca strives to realise the full potential of its portfolio by collaborating with research experts worldwide in our search for new and effective medicines that can benefit patients. Partnering across government, academia and industry is a critical way to spur additional scientific innovation and the delivery of new treatments for people who desperately need them.”

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said:

“This landmark collaboration will see our leading scientists working with industry to find new insights into disease. It will speed up the search for innovative treatments and keep the UK at the forefront of biomedical research, which will in turn drive growth and deliver benefits for patients.”

Sharmila Nebhrajani, Chief Executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities said:

“From serious but common conditions such as Alzheimer’s to rarer diseases including motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophy, we still have only a limited understanding of the way diseases develop and few therapies available for patients. Scientific advance is rooted in collaboration. The £7m funding announced today allows scientists access to previously unavailable compounds that may hold the key to understanding some highly debilitating diseases. Patients are anxiously waiting for new therapies, and collaborations that speed up the time it takes for medicines to be developed and become available to the public are especially welcome. Medical research charities, which themselves invest over £1bn in scientific research each year and have dedicated patient supporters, are also keen to pool our resources with industry and public funders to maximise the impact of this investment.”

After looking at over 100 expressions of interest, the MRC received 23 full funding proposals. The applications were assessed by the MRC, independently of AstraZeneca through international expert peer review, and the 15 successful proposals were selected on the basis of scientific quality and importance.

The rights to intellectual property (IP) generated using the compounds will vary from project to project, but will be equitable and similar to those currently used in academically-led research. AstraZeneca will retain its existing rights relating to the compounds and any new research findings by the academic institution will be owned by the academic institution.

Notes to editors

The projects were awarded to: The University of Manchester, University of Leeds, Royal Veterinary College, University of Sheffield (two projects), UCL (University College London – three projects), University of Glasgow, University of Birmingham (two projects), University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, and the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, Harwell.

A full list of the individual projects and compounds being used, and individual case studies including detailed information of some of the funded projects, are available on request, please contact:

Hannah Isom
Senior Press Officer, Medical Research Council
T: 0207 395 2345; or 07818 428 297 (out of hours)
E: press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

Vanessa Rhodes
Media Relations Director, AstraZeneca
T: 0207 604 8037
E: Vanessa.Rhodes@astrazeneca.com

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk


AstraZeneca is a global, innovation-driven biopharmaceutical business with a primary focus on the discovery, development and commercialization of prescription medicines for gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neuroscience, respiratory and inflammation, oncology and infectious disease. AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. For more information please visit: www.astrazeneca.com.