Failed AstraZeneca drugs gain second chance with $11M U.K. program

Nine AstraZeneca ($AZN) drugs that failed in one indication will gain a second life as academic researchers in the United Kingdom ramp up new tests for other uses--with many focused on preclinical trials.

The U.K.-based Medical Research Council is contributing $11 million to the project, as reported recently by Nature, Bloomberg and others. As Nature notes, the discarded drugs come out of a pile of 22 initially set aside free of charge last year for the joint effort. As part of the new funding round, 7 individual projects involving the 9 compounds are set just for preclinical testing and two will involve both preclinical and human. Six more projects are focused on human testing, and funding for the individual projects ranges from about $480,000 to $1.2 million, the Nature story notes.

All of the drugs failed against their initially designed indications. But preclinical and human testing is increasingly focusing on finding new uses for drugs that didn't work for their first proposed treatment. Success, naturally, means recouping all of those development costs for a drug once thought to be a failure. AstraZeneca isn't the only one doing this, either. As our sister publication FierceBiotech points out, Pfizer ($PFE) and Eli Lilly ($LLY), backed by NIH funding, are pursuing similar drug repurposing in the United States.

Some examples of the MRC-funded preclinical projects:

  • Richard James Mead of the University of Sheffield will test AZD1080, a GSK-3 inhibitor and a failed Alzheimer's drug, in preclinical mouse trials as a motor neuron disease treatment.

  • Sean Lawler of the University of Leeds will pursue a preclinical test using the same GSK-3 inhibitor as a treatment for glioblastoma.

  • Dominic Wells of the Royal Veterinary College will pursue preclinical testing of AZD1236, an MMP inhibitor, as a treatment for muscular dystrophy. The drug failed in its original proposed indication--to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

- read the Nature story
- here's Bloomberg's coverage
- check out FierceBiotech's take
- here's the release

Special Report: 20 Major Pharma-Academic Alliances in 2012