AstraZeneca's new iMed R&D team forges first pact with Axerion

AstraZeneca's ($AZN) newly hatched iMed unit is in business. Formed just weeks ago as the pharma giant pushed through its latest restructuring effort, the "innovative medicines" team was tasked with taking a virtual approach to developing new neuroscience therapies. And today it's forged its first collaboration: An Alzheimer's program in the hands of Axerion Therapeutics in Connecticut.

The terms of the deal--including an upfront, milestones and R&D support for the preclinical program--were kept under wraps. But it's an important first step for iMed, which has an ambitious mandate to track down new neuroscience therapies and develop them under risk-sharing deals with collaborators.

"This biologic approach is an example of the promising science that fuels our commitment to neuroscience research," noted Mike Poole, who's heading up the unit. His team will be focused on work originally undertaken at Yale. Axerion's program targets the binding of A-beta oligimers to prion proteins, working on a new approach to treating Alzheimer's. 

Neuroscience has been one of the trickiest fields in drug development, as AstraZeneca has learned the hard way. Today AstraZeneca formally dropped its big pact with Targacept ($TRGT) on TC-5214, a once promising depression therapy that flunked four straight late-stage studies.

But rather than just drop the area, as GSK ($GSK) and others have done, AstraZeneca has set out to see if it can do better with a new approach. And while AZ's R&D setbacks ultimately cost CEO David Brennan his job, the company seems determined to plow ahead with new deals aimed at replenishing a badly depleted pipeline. 

- here's the press release
- here's the story on the termination of the TC-5214 deal