AstraZeneca deepens its Cambridge ties with hopes for Alzheimer's and cancer

AstraZeneca Executive Vice President Mene Pangalos

AstraZeneca ($AZN), two years away from a big relocation to Cambridge, U.K., is broadening its relationship with the local university, signing a slew of new agreements that will bolster its R&D efforts in neuroscience and oncology.

The company's latest tie-up with Cambridge entails four separate deals, in which AstraZeneca both lends out its own expertise and benefits from the school's long-established track record of innovation. The move comes on the heels two earlier partnerships between the parties, all supporting AstraZeneca's mission of making like-minded friends in R&D before it settles into a new $500 million Cambridge headquarters in 2016.

Under the first deal, a three-year agreement, AstraZeneca and its MedImmune subsidiary will work alongside Cambridge researchers on drug discovery and biomarker identification for neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. Cambridge will provide its expertise and scores of disease models, while the company will bring its state-of-the-art screening technology and R&D know-how, AstraZeneca said.

Separately, AstraZeneca will open up its compound vaults, giving Cambridge researchers access to key in-development drugs like the lung cancer immunotherapy AZD9291 and the ovarian cancer treatment olaparib. The big idea is to get more minds focused on the candidates in hopes of improving their chances of success. And AstraZeneca, which hopes to bring in $12 billion a year from its oncology pipeline, has plenty of incentive to share.

The third agreement involves a collaboration between Cambridge and MedImmune to create a PhD program in which students will split time between the school and the company, getting hands-on drug development experience. And, fourth, the two will create entrepreneur-in-residence program designed to incubate budding biotech innovators.

AstraZeneca's future home in Cambridge, U.K.--Courtesy of AstraZeneca

The deals support AstraZeneca's mission to construct "a permeable research infrastructure" in Cambridge ahead of its big move. Since disclosing its plans to shutter some far-flung R&D outposts and consolidate in Cambridge last year, the company has been sending advanced teams of researchers to the area to make scientific acquaintances and scout for partnerships. Among AstraZeneca's new collaborators are the government-run Medical Research Council and Cancer Research U.K., and the drugmaker is hardly done forging new relationships, Executive Vice President Mene Pangalos said.

"In a world where partnerships and collaborations drive medical innovation, deepening our roots in the vibrant Cambridge life science ecosystem offers compelling advantages for AstraZeneca," Pangalos said in a statement. "These new agreements will not only bring our teams closer to the world-class academic investigators at the University of Cambridge, but will also enable us to actively support the development of the next generation of leading scientists right here in the U.K."

- read the statement