AstraZeneca’s Global High Throughput Screening (HTS) group is where, often for the first time in a drug discovery programmes’ life, biology meets chemistry. It’s where for the first time a target protein or assay system can be probed for novel molecules that modulate its function. Of course we want to do this to ultimately prove a hypothesis that these proteins are drug targets and to deliver innovative medicines. And for many years the historical High Throughput Screening departments have been a critical part of hit discovery at the beginning of the drug discovery process.
We are fortunate at AstraZeneca to have access to a carefully curated collection of ~2 million compounds, to have automation and screening technologies that are available to just a few organisations across the globe and to have people skilled in the scientific disciplines that facilitate the identification of starting points from these complex assays. We are also fortunate to be part of a company that realises these things and has an ambition to use these assets in a way that has never been done before. AstraZeneca has ambitious plans to create a flagship research and development organisation on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC) but the plans to create the UK centre for Lead Discovery within the CBC are a very special part of this. The centre will build on AstraZeneca’s world leading reputation for collaboration by building a state of the art HTS and Compound Management infrastructure. We have also agreed to share this infrastructure with scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) by placing their staff within our laboratories.
The MRC collaboration will run for an initial period of five years. Research proposals will be submitted to the MRC who will independently assess and select the best ones from a broad range of therapy areas and diseases. The MRC will fund up to 15 screening projects per year to be carried out at the UK Centre for Lead Discovery. AstraZeneca will have the first option to enter a negotiation to license any resulting drug discovery programmes of relevance to the company’s therapeutic areas of interest. This represents a significant new potential for hit discovery in that it offers access to world leading academics, who in return can test their hypothesis by developing tools or lead molecules. It also facilitates the use of AstraZeneca’s compound collection at a scale which it would otherwise not be possible, creating greater numbers of high quality drug discovery opportunities that complement our own portfolio.
One of the most exciting things for us within HTS is that the concept of the UK Centre for Lead Discovery is just the start. Our open innovation portal is already working hard to identify other academics that would like to work with us in this way. We have already started to work with organizations such as Cancer Research UK and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and recently agreed a screening collaboration with the American Drug Discovery Consortium. Additionally we are continuing to expand our compound collections with innovative deals to access new chemistry such as the target swap agreement we have with Bayer. The investment AstraZeneca is making, in what is surprisingly the only pharmaceutical screening organization remaining in the UK, will mean that we are uniquely positioned to build on our leading position and offer open innovation partnership for many years to come.