AstraZeneca, GSK snag a direct line to researchers at Cambridge academic hub

AstraZeneca ($AZN) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) have secured direct connections to researchers at the University of Cambridge and its associated academic institutions. The arrangement is part of a "matchmaking" scheme, in which drugmakers will provide academics with funding for collaborative research and access to their experimental therapies.

Professor Tony Kouzarides

The giants of British biopharma are joined by Cambridge, U.K.-based Astex Pharmaceuticals on the industry side of the table, while the Babraham Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute sit alongside the university as the academic participants in the alliance. To bridge the two groups, the organizations have set up the Therapeutics Consortium, the terms of which are designed to cut red tape that can slow the transfer of assets and information between industry and academia. For now, the Consortium is housed at the Gurdon Institute but it will move early in 2018.

Once opened, the Milner Therapeutics Institute--a new building at Cambridge Biomedical Campus created with a £5 million ($7.8 million) donation--will host the Consortium and facilitate its activities. "The Milner Institute will act as a 'match-making' service through the Therapeutics Consortium, connecting the world-leading research potential of the University of Cambridge and partner institutions with the drug development expertise and resources of the pharmaceutical industry," Professor Tony Kouzarides said in a statement.

Kouzarides, who will lead the Therapeutics Consortium and the Milner Institute, is hoping "many more" biopharma companies will join Astex, AstraZeneca and GSK on the industry side of the alliance. The biopharma partners are to provide cash for collaborative projects, as well as funding for an executive manager to oversee alliances with their academic allies. Equally importantly, the companies will open up their portfolio of experimental therapies to allow researchers to probe their mechanism, efficacy and potential.

GSK sees such work as a way to cut the rate of attrition in clinical trials. "Late-stage attrition is too high. As an industry, we must improve our success rate by understanding our molecules and targets better. This innovative institute … aims to increase our knowledge of basic biological mechanisms to help us bring the right investigational medicines into human trials and ultimately to patients," Rab Prinjha, head of GSK's epigenetics discovery performance unit, said in a statement.

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