AZ R&D unit has orders to hunt down new targets of opportunity

Pharmalot's Ed Silverman has been delving into AstraZeneca's ($AZN) newly announced program to open up 22 of its drug programs to academic investigators who can use funds from the U.K.'s Medicines Research Council to explore new uses for the treatments. And his Q&A with AstraZeneca VP Clive Morris, who heads up the Big Pharma company's innovative medicines unit, helps shed light on some of the new thinking that's going into drug R&D these days and how academic investigators can play an important role in the process.

As Morris explains, like other Big Pharma outfits, AstraZeneca has been breaking up its R&D operations into smaller, more closely focused units as it tries to spur improved productivity. But the company didn't want to lose its ability to explore new ways to repurpose its drugs for other ailments outside its short list. AZ has a portfolio of "deprioritized" experimental drugs that might have unexpected potential.

"Every one of the individual units has its own business plan and strategy," Morris tells Pharmalot. "They tend to be very different, but in some ways come together and look for ways to work across groups. The question was how can we do this in a way and not to create a big large internal machine? How do we act on finding the best external science and collaborations to drive our science?"

"As we looked at repositioning, we established a list of compounds for potential repositioning into new diseases. But what are the cost effective ways? Which academic institutions? We could talk to individual institutions, but wouldn't it be better to pass the net broadly? And so here's a pool of assets to explore, but we don't know which diseases or patients they may work in. With the MRC, we get a broad selection of proposals for diseases where we don't have expertise. MRC has a strong drive around promoting translational research in the UK. ... They've bemoaned about the access to compounds from industry."

- here's a link to the full interview