MRC awards £7m of funding for UK research projects

Alzheimer’s, cancer and rare disease research to benefit from MRC-AstraZeneca collaboration

The UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) is providing £7m of funding for 15 research projects following AstraZeneca sharing a number of its chemical compounds with academic researchers.

Last December, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker announced that it would make 22 of its chemical compounds freely available to UK scientists in 2012 as part of a partnership with the MRC. The researchers were encouraged to apply for MRC funding to use the compounds in medical research.

AstraZeneca had conducted early trials of these compounds and validated their use for future research, but had put them on hold for further development. The collaboration extended the possible application of these compounds in new areas.

Scientists will use the 22 compounds to study a broad range of conditions from Alzheimer’s, cancer and lung disease, 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.

AstraZeneca will retain rights to the chemical composition of the compounds, but new research findings will be owned by the academic institution.

After looking at more than 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.

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.’

The projects were awarded to: The University of Manchester, University of Leeds, Royal Veterinary College, University of Sheffield (two projects), UCL (University College London – three projects), University of Glasgow, University of Birmingham (two projects), University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, and the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, Harwell.

Martin Mackay, president of AstraZeneca Research & Development, said: ‘AstraZeneca strives to realise 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.’

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