AstraZeneca taps Amazon-like service for outsourcing research

At AstraZeneca ($AZN), scientists can search a virtual research exchange to shop for services from contract research groups in a similar fashion to browsing an online marketplace such as Amazon.com ($AMZN). The London-based drug giant has gained this capability through a partnership with the San Diego startup Assay Depot, which provides a web-based system that enables biopharma outfits and contractors to acquire and offer services.

The "virtual laboratory" offers AstraZeneca one more way to seek efficient ways to advance new drugs, which the Big Pharma company has struggled to bring to market after a string of setbacks in clinical trials. And the alliance with Assay Depot comes as AZ and other large drugmakers look to outsource more of their research as they streamline their R&D organizations with cutbacks and massive layoffs. Earlier this month, for instance, AZ's MedImmune unit revealed the elimination of 200 jobs and the consolidation of its vaccine R&D operations in California. 

With Assay Depot's technology, AstraZeneca will be able to search for services from roughly 6,000 external vendors and compare the cost and quality of those offerings with services available to scientists internally at the company, Chris Petersen, Assay Depot's CIO, told FierceBiotechIT. Assay Depot has been building the system over the past 5 years, with Pfizer ($PFE) and one other large pharma group setting up their own research networks with the startup's software.

"I think it's interesting that AstraZeneca is trying to create a one-stop shop where their internal services can compete directly with external services," Petersen said. "They can see how their internal services perform, and it shows that they are forward-thinking in their approach to outsourcing."

In a statement, Mike Snowden, AZ's vice president of Discovery Sciences, said: "By connecting our internal and external science, the virtual laboratory platform is creating a new approach for our scientists to run experiments with an optimal balance of speed, quality and cost. We look forward to assessing how the virtual laboratory platform impacts and accelerates productivity in the R&D pipeline."

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