Drug development is a long, complex and expensive process - the average sector cost of bringing a new medicine to market was more than £630 million this year. The first step in making new medicines available to patients is the development of chemical compounds, which have the potential to treat or prevent a specific disease. Many compounds undergo early trials but are then put on hold for a variety of reasons. Some of these compounds are seen as invaluable by scientists, who can use them in medical research with the ultimate aim of benefiting patients.
As part of the collaboration with AstraZeneca, the MRC is inviting research proposals from across the UK academic community to use the compounds in new areas. The MRC will judge and select the best scientific proposals, and award up to £10 million in total to fund research across a broad range of human diseases.
Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council said: "The MRC is delighted to be partnering AstraZeneca in this exciting new approach towards understanding disease mechanisms in humans and thereby speeding the development of new treatments. The initiative marks a new era in medical discovery, open innovation and public-private collaboration."
David Brennan, AstraZeneca's Chief Executive Officer said: "Innovative collaborations are playing a crucial role in finding ways to unlock the potential of new treatments. The UK has a strong heritage of research excellence in life sciences. We hope that in sharing these valuable compounds with academic scientists through the MRC, new discoveries will be made by exploring additional uses of these compounds."
David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: "This landmark agreement is a real boost for British science. It will give our world-leading research base new insights into disease and encourage the development of groundbreaking new treatments. This will keep the UK at the very forefront of biomedical research and drive growth and innovation in our life sciences industry."
Simon Denegri, Chair of INVOLVE, the UK's national advisory group on public involvement, said: "This collaboration is exciting news, not just for scientists but for patients as well. Although it may take some time to unearth their true potential, these compounds could hold the key to a better understanding of a whole range of diseases including rarer conditions and may lay the foundations for the treatments of tomorrow. I hope we’ll look back on this day as a landmark moment, which set the tone for industry and academia collaborations of the future and a huge step towards medical discoveries that will improve the lives of millions of people."
The rights to intellectual property (IP) generated using the compounds will vary from project to project but will be equitable and similar to those currently used in academically-led research. AstraZeneca will retain rights over the chemical composition of the compounds, which have taken millions of pounds to develop so far, and any new research findings will be owned by the academic institution.
The call for applications opens today. A two-stage process will be used to identify projects that are feasible, do not duplicate existing studies and do not directly contribute to AstraZeneca development programmes. Any potential projects which duplicate or overlap AstraZeneca's active development programmes will not be eligible for MRC funding, but the company may choose to work with the researchers directly.
New research arising from the collaboration will be published and communicated to the broader scientific community.
About the Medical Research Council
For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century.
AstraZeneca is a global, innovation-driven biopharmaceutical business with a primary focus on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines for gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neuroscience, respiratory and inflammation, oncology and infectious disease. AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide.