Is Open Innovation becoming the ‘new normal’ in medicines research?

Open Innovation – our pioneering initiative for sharing our compounds, technology and expertise with academic and industry collaborators – could soon become the ‘new normal’ for medicines research.

Hundreds of leading scientists from all over the world have become enthusiastic partners in the programme since its launch in March 2014. We have received over 400 Open Innovation proposals from researchers in 28 countries across four continents. They provide compelling evidence of the value of our partnering opportunities to aid development of breakthrough medicines for patients in greatest need.


“I hope that our pioneering approach to Open Innovation will spread across the industry and academia and become the new normal,” says Craig Wegner, Executive Director, Emerging Innovations, Scientific Partnering & Alliances, IMED Biotech Unit. “It is enabling us to advance projects that neither we nor our partners would be able to do alone and create new therapies for patients.”


A new partnership every week
In just 2½ years, we have formed 150 Open Innovation partnerships. Nine out of 10 are with academic scientists, the rest with science-focused companies. Institutional partners include the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Center for Advancing Translational Research (NIH-NCATS) in the US, the Medical Research Council (MRC) in the UK and the National Research Program for Biopharmaceuticals (NRPB) in Taiwan.


Over 100 pre-clinical and 22 clinical Open Innovation studies are ongoing or planned. They include research in Alzheimer’s disease, peripheral artery disease, psychosis, autism and cancer bone pain. Results have been reported in six medical and scientific journals, with more on the way.

Word is spreading about the success of our Open Innovation approach. Some of our partners are coming back to us with new ideas for further collaborations and we continue to be approached by potential new collaborators

Craig Wegner Executive Director, Emerging Innovations, Scientific Partnering & Alliances, IMED Biotech Unit

A unique resource

Potential partners can access over 250,000 compounds from our collection for screening.

“We are the only pharmaceutical company to actively offer clinical compounds in early clinical development. These are both discontinued and live compounds, in translational and clinical settings. We have a broad offering to scientists working in a range of academic disciplines, including medicinal chemists and safety scientists,” Wegner points out.

The newly redesigned Open Innovation portal makes it easier than ever for potential partners to investigate:

  • The Clinical Compound Bank of patient-ready compounds
  • The Preclinical Toolbox of compounds ready for preclinical studies
  • The possibilities for Target Innovation (identifying chemical leads to novel drug targets), New Molecule Profiling (determining drug-like properties for novel compounds) and a variety of R&D Challenges.

Collaboration is essential to advancing our understanding of human diseases and accelerating the discovery and development of ground-breaking treatments that benefit patients. Such partnerships can span academic, industry and clinical researchers, all of whom bring unique insights and capabilities to bear on some of the most important questions facing the world today. Companies such as AstraZeneca, with their Open Innovation approach, are providing vital routes to foster innovative partnerships, helping the Medical Research Council support the best research.

Dr Chris Watkins Director of Translational Research and Industry, Medical Research Council

Explore, create, collaborate  
Researchers can explore our High Throughput Screening (HTS) compound library to help advance or validate ideas for novel drug targets or assays. They can also submit their own compounds for new molecule profiling with the very latest technology to probe their potential as future medicines. Through such partnerships, HTS has already been performed on 16 novel drug targets.

“The influx of external scientific creativity adds new, broader thinking to help boost our programmes, our energy and our excitement. In return, our collaborators benefit from our drug discovery expertise and technology which is far beyond what is normally available to them,” says Wegner.

Driving knowledge in neglected areas  
At Manchester University, Professor Jacky Smith is testing one of our compounds, called AZD3355, as a possible treatment for chronic cough. This is a debilitating problem for which there have been no new medicines for over 50 years. We had discontinued earlier research on AZD3355 in heartburn. But the cause of heartburn – gastroesophageal reflux – has been linked to chronic cough. So, thanks to an Open Innovation collaboration with the Medical Research Council, Professor Smith is investigating whether AZD3355 could be an option in this area of unmet medical need.

“These sorts of cross-institutional collaborations are one of the best ways to really drive our knowledge forward in the field, and find new medicines,” says Professor Smith.

Unrestricted access  
We do not restrict access to our compounds to researchers working in our core therapy areas of interest. When projects have emerged in other fields, such as women’s health, we have facilitated licensing arrangements so researchers partner with companies with appropriate expertise.

When we discontinued our research on the neurokinin 3 (NK3) receptor antagonist, AZD4901, in schizophrenia due to lack of efficacy for this indication, we made it available through Open Innovation. Having seen that AZD4901 reduced levels of the female hormone, luteinising hormone (LH), we recognised its potential in treating polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is a common cause of female infertility. We do not develop drugs for PCOS and infertility, so we licensed AZD4901 to a specialist company that does. A Phase IIb study in PCOS is now underway.

Our collaboration with AstraZeneca, along with many of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies, is a key part of Cancer Research UK’s commitment to ensure laboratory discoveries are translated into interventions that can benefit patients as quickly as possible. Partnerships like these, which bring the right expertise together with industry capabilities, provide crucial support to accelerate drug discovery efforts and translate new discoveries into patient benefit sooner.

Jamie Meredith Head of Therapeutic Discovery Funding, Cancer Research UK

Equal opportunities for all
We are consistent in our partnership agreements. We offer the same terms to small research centres as big-name institutions. When promising projects emerge, collaborators own their data and we look to license from them in an open and fair way.  

“As medical research becomes ever more challenging, the only way to bring advances in treatment to patients – especially those with rarer diseases – is to leverage the creativity and knowledge of the entire scientific community,” concludes Wegner.


Message from Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President, IMED Biotech Unit and Business Development, AstraZeneca

Open Innovation Platform

Offering access to compound libraries, technologies, services and know-how, and the opportunity to develop your ideas into treatments for patients.

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