AstraZeneca tacks on Charles River deal amid outsourcing push

AstraZeneca ($AZN) has sent more research work out the door to an outsourcing partner. The London-based drug giant struck a three-year deal with Charles River Laboratories International ($CRL), which will provide the pharma company with safety assessment and drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics testing services. The agreement comes amid a broader effort at AZ to find collaborators outside the company to provide assets and services.

Wilmington, MA-based Charles River touted the "preferred strategy partner" status it now has under the multi-year deal with AstraZeneca, and the CRO is counting on the agreement to account for 1% of its net sales in 2013. (The pharma services group reported $1.14 billion in net sales for 2011). At AstraZeneca, executives have made cutbacks in R&D and struck a series of deals to outsource more research work to help advance programs with a smaller internal workforce--striving for greater efficiency in one of the pharma industry's least productive drug pipelines in recent years.

Stefan Platz, AZ's vice president of global safety assessment, said: "Tapping into the high quality drug development services of a trusted strategic partner enables AstraZeneca to increase our resource flexibility while simplifying the way we work. We are pleased to partner with Charles River to utilize their scientific expertise, such as their customized in vivo biology program. Our organizations will work hand-in-hand to deliver toxicology, safety pharmacology and development DMPK studies in support of our efforts to deliver safe and effective new treatments to patients more efficiently."

AstraZeneca's Charles River partnership has surfaced in the news just days after the drugmaker announced a separate accord with the CRO outfit Pharmaron, which has major operations in Beijing, to provide outsourced chemistry, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, and efficacy testing to AZ. And in July the pharma company announced plans to use software from Assay Depot to give its researchers with an Amazon-like service to aid in outsourcing preclinical work to service providers.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has allocated a major chunk of its development budget to land rights to assets from external collaborators, as R&D president Martin Mackay and other execs seek solutions from outside the company to build the company's product portfolio after a string of setbacks in clinical trials. Recently, the drugmaker pledged billions to Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) to gain rights to diabetes drugs Bristol picked up this summer in its acquisition of Amylin Pharmaceuticals.

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