AstraZeneca ratchets up tech capabilities of Cambridge R&D site

AstraZeneca ($AZN) has unveiled a clutch of deals to add to the technological capabilities of its new R&D hub in Cambridge, U.K. The agreements will equip the site with robots to carry out high-throughput screening, sound wave tools to dispense compounds and software to share data with external partners.

Work on the facility, the AstraZeneca MRC UK Centre for Lead Discovery, began last year when the Big Pharma hooked up with the Medicines Research Council (MRC). The facility, which will sit within AstraZeneca's new R&D campus in Cambridge, will support compound screening projects run by staff from the Big Pharma and MRC, as well as programs initiated by select academic researchers. While the facility is still being built, an image of the types of technology AstraZeneca will make available to researchers is starting to take shape.

The most eye-catching of the three tech deals unveiled by AstraZeneca this week involves HighRes Biosolutions, which will work with the Big Pharma to develop robotics for use in the facility. Once the development of the technology is complete, AstraZeneca will have light, strong robots with which its researchers can interact directly. By putting researchers in physical contact with light, strong robots, instead of hiding them away behind protective shields, AstraZeneca thinks its technology will have broader utility and better efficiency than existing alternatives.

AstraZeneca has also inked agreements to install sound wave technology that facilitates hands-free dispensing of compounds onto well plates and software to support data analysis and sharing. The deals form part of a drive at AstraZeneca to make the best use of its compound library. Management is looking outside of AstraZeneca's walls for ideas about what to do with the compounds--the deal with MRC includes funding for 15 screening projects--and for the chemicals themselves. The tech deals coincided with AstraZeneca's agreement to share 210,000 compounds with Sanofi ($SNY).

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