Future-focused R&D capabilities pushing the boundaries of science

The pace of change across healthcare is moving more rapidly than ever before. Patient populations and their expectations are rising, science is constantly advancing, and digital technologies, data science and artificial intelligence (AI) are accelerating the progress we can make to deliver life-changing medicines to the people who need them most.

Last year, to ensure we stay at the forefront of scientific advances across research and development, we transformed the way we structured our R&D creating two therapy-focused organisations to lead all our work from discovery through to late-stage development.

Since then we have been confronted with a challenging global pandemic. But our two R&D groups – Biopharmaceuticals R&D and Oncology R&D – have been able to rapidly focus their research efforts to continue to deliver our pipeline, as well as helping to combat COVID-19.

By joining forces with international health authorities, governments, academia and industry peers our R&D teams have accelerated our efforts towards the development of medicines to prevent or treat the virus, to boost diagnostic testing and to help protect healthcare workers on the frontline.

Two R&D organisations with one aim

The two R&D organisations work both independently and together, sharing 13 Functions specialising in key scientific capabilities from medicinal chemistry to biometrics, patient safety to data science and AI, and clinical innovation to device technology. Having our focused therapy areas combined with cutting-edge scientific teams in our key shared Functions, allows us to think and act more cohesively.

José Baselga, EVP Oncology R&D, says: “This organisational structure allows us to see the performance and promise of the whole organisation from end-to-end which means we develop the right strategy to achieve our ambitions across our therapy areas. In the case of Oncology, our ambition is to eliminate cancer as a cause of death. Critical to this is gaining a more complete understanding of cancer, the underlying drivers of disease, the links between them and then developing the tests to ensure earlier diagnosis and treatment for patients.”

Scientific understanding is constantly changing and advancing and, with the explosion of digital, consolidating our expertise in data science and AI, and digital health, these new Functions are enabling us to stay at the forefront of research. The harnessing of data and technology is helping our scientists to accelerate our understanding of complex diseases with the aim of delivering disease modifying medicines that prevent, reverse or even cure them.

Sir Mene Pangalos, EVP BioPharmaceuticals R&D, says: “Selecting the right target remains the most important decision we make in the drug discovery process. Finding new ways to target the drivers of disease will help us uncover the right target and be better able to predict the clinical success of potential treatments. In BioPharmaceuticals, our goal is equally ambitious - to create a life without limits for over a billion people with chronic diseases in areas of cardiovascular, renal, and metabolic and respiratory and immunology. To achieve this, we must go beyond treating an individual disease and address the underlying causes which may prevent co-morbidities from occurring.”

Our people and partners are our pipeline

The R&D transformation also ensures our R&D culture, which is powered by a unique combination of four essential elements and is driven by the passion of our people, not only works across everything we do but reaches beyond our “four walls” in AstraZeneca.

Our people impress and inspire us and it is vital we continue to attract and retain the brightest minds, the best talent and the boldest innovators – the people who share our passion for science and our belief in its potential to re-define the possible to create the greatest and swiftest impact on disease.

To do this we are inspiring people with curious minds so they can work free from fear of failure, free to ask the right questions, make bold decisions and dig deep into the biology of complex disease. This has created an environment where science can thrive and where all doors are open, talent and diversity are celebrated and every voice is heard. Creating and sustaining this culture is how we will unlock the power of what science can do.

Mene, says: “We have great scientists at AstraZeneca doing truly ground-breaking research in a rich and permeable research environment. But we know that to accelerate the discovery, development and delivery of the next generation of life-saving medicines we need to share ideas and collaborate on projects outside our labs. This is why we are always looking at new ways to work alongside academia, to innovate with biotech and partner with industry to advance our scientific knowledge and help patients with unmet medical needs.”

We are always learning from the people who live with the diseases our medicines treat in order to understand their needs and make sure that the great science born in a lab can make a real difference to their lives.

José, adds: “This is not just about listening, but also about taking the time to understand. We are constantly pioneering new approaches to engagement in the clinic and beyond and digital technologies are creating never-seen-before opportunities to do this. We believe that delivering a better experience for patients will improve their outcomes.”

If you’ve been inspired by this glimpse inside our R&D organisations or share our ambition to transform the lives of patients, then there is a place for you at AstraZeneca. You can search for open positions here, or contact us about partnering opportunities.