AZ sets up ‘virtual’ R&D unit

 Global pharma giant AstraZeneca (AZ) its setting up a new ‘virtual’ neuroscience R&D unit within its Innovative Medicines division to seek effective therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s through ‘open innovation’.

The new unit, based in Boston, US, and Cambridge, UK, will consist of 40–50 AZ scientists working with an external network of academic and industry partners.

Neuroscientist Dr Mike Poole, who has extensive experience in pharmaceutical R&D, has been appointed to lead the unit.

This initiative is part of a major AZ restructure that will see 2,200 R&D jobs axed, with the company hoping to “pioneer a new approach to neuroscience drug discovery and development” – which it says has “proved elusive” in the past.

AZ’s strategy reflects the growing industry trend towards the ‘open innovation’ model, whereby a company broadens its expertise by collaborating with the wider research community.

Dr Pool joins AZ from US neuroscience research company Link Medicine. He has held senior research posts at Wyeth and Pfizer, as well as being Chief Medical Officer at biotech company Hypnion.

Dr Menelas Pangalos, Executive VP of AZ’s Innovative Medicines division, said: “AstraZeneca is deeply committed to neuroscience research and the discovery and development of new treatments for a full range of neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s, neuropathic pain, depression and Parkinson’s.

“While many companies have exited or scaled back efforts in this high-risk area, we will step up the search for new medicines to help people with neurological and psychiatric diseases. We are confident this new approach will enable us to tap the most exciting science and discoveries that exist in labs around the world.”

For AZ, the new ‘virtual’ R&D unit will replace existing neuroscience R&D teams at Montreal, Canada and Södertälje, Sweden. The Montreal site will close, but the Södertälje site will retain its manufacturing and commercial functions.