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Volume 90 Issue 49 | p. 8 | News of The Week
Issue Date: December 3, 2012 | Web Date: November 29, 2012

Life Support For Montreal R&D

Biotech: Industry, government form nonprofit research hub
Department: Business
Keywords: pharmaceuticals, nonprofits, drug development, translational science, Montreal
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AstraZeneca is donating this R&D site to NeoMed.
Credit: AstraZeneca
AstraZeneca’s neuroscience R&D site in Montreal that it has donated to the nonprofit NeoMed.
 
AstraZeneca is donating this R&D site to NeoMed.
Credit: AstraZeneca

As drug companies move their R&D operations out of Quebec in rapid succession, Canadian authorities are trying to sustain the region’s life sciences community. In the latest effort, the government, along with AstraZeneca and Pfizer, is committing $100 million over five years to establish the NeoMed Institute, a nonprofit research center in Montreal.

NeoMed aspires to bridge the gap between basic research and early clinical studies for drug candidates by offering universities and biotech start-ups funding and services. The hope is to eventually restore some of the hundreds of R&D jobs the region has lost in the past two years. AstraZeneca and Pfizer, along with any other big pharma partners that join NeoMed, will have an option to license molecules developed there.

AstraZeneca is kicking in its former neuroscience research facility, which was focused on developing small molecules, along with $5 million and intellectual property for three potential pain drugs. The firm values its input at $35 million.

Pfizer will chip in $3.5 million, and the Quebec government has earmarked $28 million for the project. The Canadian government and other pharma partners are expected to make up the balance of the $100 million.

AstraZeneca shut down the Montreal site earlier this year as part of an overhaul of its R&D organization that included adopting a “virtual” model for neuroscience research. Some 132 scientists were employed at the site.

Alf Larsson, vice president of special projects for Astra­Zeneca’s R&D operations, led his firm’s participation in NeoMed as head of a team tasked with finding “a new opportunity” for the Montreal assets. When Max Fehlmann, former CEO of the Quebec Consortium for Drug Discovery, approached AstraZeneca with the idea, “it made absolute sense to me to fill the gap between academic research and pharma,” Larsson says.

The research center will provide minimal relief for the victims of pharma-related R&D job losses in the Montreal region. In addition to AstraZeneca, Merck & Co., Johnson & Johnson, and Boehringer Ingelheim all have shuttered R&D sites or significantly cut the number of scientists they employ in Quebec.

Initially, NeoMed will employ 15 to 20 scientists—many of whom used to work for AstraZeneca—although the partners say up to 100 researchers could eventually work there.

 
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