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Alzheimer's, cancer and rare disease research to benefit from landmark MRC-AstraZeneca compound collaboration
The Medical Research Council (MRC) has announced £7 million of funding for 15 research projects awarded through its groundbreaking collaboration with innovative pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which gave academic researchers unprecedented access to 22 chemical compounds.

Scientists will use the compounds to study a broad range of conditions from common diseases like Alzheimer's, cancer and lung disease through to rarer conditions such as motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophies. Eight of the projects will involve clinical (human) trials of potential new therapies, and seven will focus on earlier work in laboratory and animal models. All the projects will increase our understanding of human disease and accelerate the search for innovative treatments.

The MRC-AstraZeneca compound collaboration was first announced by British Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2011 as part of the UK Life Sciences Strategy.

AstraZeneca made 22 of its chemical compounds available free-of-charge to scientists, who were encouraged to apply for MRC funding to use them in medical research with the ultimate aim of benefitting patients. AstraZeneca had conducted early trials of these compounds and validated their use for future research, but had put them on hold for further development. This collaboration extends the possible application of these compounds for use in new areas.

Professor Patrick Johnston, Chair of the MRC's Translational Research Group, said:

“The quality of applications we received for the MRC-AstraZeneca collaboration was higher than we could ever have hoped and we are delighted to be funding 15 excellent projects. Thanks to the generosity of AstraZeneca, UK scientists will be able to carry out medical research that otherwise may never have been possible. Not only will this bring benefits for patients in the form of more effective medicines and a better understanding of disease, but it has also allowed academic researchers to forge new partnerships with industry, which will give rise to future collaboration across the life sciences sector.”

Mr. Martin Mackay, President of AstraZeneca Research & Development, said: “AstraZeneca strives to realize the full potential of its portfolio by collaborating with research experts worldwide in our search for new and effective medicines that can benefit patients. Partnering across government, academia and industry is a critical way to spur additional scientific innovation and the delivery of new treatments for people who desperately need them.”

Mr. David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: “This landmark collaboration will see our leading scientists working with industry to find new insights into disease. It will speed up the search for innovative treatments and keep the UK at the forefront of biomedical research, which will in turn drive growth and deliver benefits for patients.”

Ms. Mr. Sharmila Nebhrajani said: “From serious but common conditions such as Alzheimer's to rarer diseases including motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophy, we still have only a limited understanding of the way diseases develop and few therapies available for patients. Scientific advance is rooted in collaboration. The £7m funding announced allows scientists access to previously unavailable compounds that may hold the key to understanding some highly debilitating diseases. Patients are anxiously waiting for new therapies, and collaborations that speed up the time it takes for medicines to be developed and become available to the public are especially welcome. Medical research charities, which themselves invest over £1bn in scientific research each year and have dedicated patient supporters, are also keen to pool our resources with industry and public funders to maximize the impact of this investment.”

After looking at over 100 expressions of interest, the MRC received 23 full funding proposals. The applications were assessed by the MRC, independently of AstraZeneca through international expert peer review, and the 15 successful proposals were selected on the basis of scientific quality and importance.

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 its existing rights relating to the compounds and any new research findings by the academic institution will be owned by the academic institution.

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