AstraZeneca picks Tufts for outsourcing-heavy neuro program

AstraZeneca ($AZN) is casting a wide net across industry and academia for its nearly all outsourced neuroscience unit, now looping in Tufts University's School of Medicine to help develop therapies for ailments like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Under the three-year deal, Tufts will assemble a team of experts led by neuroscience professor Stephen Moss, joining AstraZeneca's in-house investigators at Neuroscience Innovative Medicines (NS iMed). Together, the group will explore neurological pathways in brain disease, helping push new drug compounds and validated targets into AstraZeneca's portfolio, the company said.

With NS iMed, AstraZeneca is rebooting its old models of drug development, matching about 40 in-house R&D experts with CROs, academics and other partners to share costs, rewards and workloads in pursuit of new treatments. Mike Poole, NS iMed vice president, said the near-virtual setup allows AstraZeneca to tap the top talent in the industry without undertaking the budget-breaking R&D work that has sapped up Big Pharma's margins over the past few years.

"The patient need for new treatments across the neuroscience spectrum is growing, and my team has the flexibility to work with the best institutions to advance the science and translate it into new medicines," Poole said in a statement.

Last month, AstraZeneca recruited ePharmaSolutions to join the NS iMed fold, tasking the clinical IT outfit with creating a cloud-based platform that will allow the unit's many collaborators to share complex data from trial sites around the globe. That framework will allow NS iMed to hit the ground running once it has compounds to pursue, AstraZeneca said.

Like many of its competitors, AstraZeneca has cut deep into its R&D budget of late, and, if successful, NS iMed could demonstrate a new way forward for spend-wary drugmakers. As AstraZeneca Executive Vice President Menelas Pangalos told FierceCRO last fall, Alzheimer's, neuropathic pain, depression and Parkinson's are some of the highest-risk targets in biotech, and the company believes sharing the costs and benefits with third parties will boost its chances of success.

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