- Mike Poole discusses the collaborative approach to AstraZeneca’s neuroscience research -
Approximately a year ago we made a change to our neuroscience model at AstraZeneca; from an internal and centralised function, to a much smaller centre focused on collaboration. The idea is to create something from which we can tap into the best available external science, while sharing cost, risk and reward with other research partners active in the field.
Neuroscience is a tough nut to crack and there is still a huge unmet medical need. One of the reasons we feel the new model would suit this therapy area particularly well is that we can now access the best science in biotech and academia, to pursue research from the point of target identification and validation, through to proof of concept.
So far in the new model, we’ve formed some fantastic partnerships. The A5 alliance is one that we’re particularly excited about; we’re working with four academic groups to study a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, the apolipoprotein E4 genotype (ApoE). This is a truly novel approach in terms of the unique group we’ve brought together to work on a fascinating and crucial piece of research.
Also in the past year we’ve set-up collaborations with Link Medicine, to acquire neuroscience assets, and Axerion Therapeutics, focussing on biologic research for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Last month we announced a new partnership with Vanderbilt University, Center for Drug Discovery to identify candidate drugs aimed at treating psychosis and other neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with major brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. The partnership with Vanderbilt expands our capabilities and provides us with access to a highly capable group of drug discovery experts.
The area we’re focused on is specific neurotransmitter receptors in the brain, known as M4 receptors. We are targeting ligands for this receptor that are much more selective than those pursued in the past. In the past the non-selectivity led to safety concerns that caused those compounds to fail.
The group at Vanderbilt have discovered compounds with very high selectivity for the M4 receptor. They work a bit like an electric dimmer switch, indirectly turning up the activity of the receptor accordingly.
The Vanderbilt relationship is unique because it provides nearly every step of the drug discovery process, whereas many pharma/academic collaborations involve just one part of the discovery work. We’re certainly excited to be working with them.
Looking ahead, we’re hoping to build on what we’ve started in this past year. I’d like to see us build our portfolio in a robust way, continue to create scientific and business partnerships and make cutting-edge scientific advancements in key neurologic, psychiatric and analgesic disease states.