As drug companies experiment with ways to speed the discovery of new medicines, they are forging deeper ties with academia. In the latest examples, AstraZeneca and Forma Therapeutics are both leveraging the expertise of Cancer Research UK to accelerate the development of oncology drugs. The nonprofit provides substantial funding to academic researchers across the U.K.
In its first partnership in Cambridge, England, since announcing in March that it will build a major R&D lab there, AstraZeneca is teaming with Cambridge University and Cancer Research UK on three projects. The partners will explore ways to monitor tumor progression and therapy response using blood tests; test a combination of two AstraZeneca drug candidates, olaparib and AZD2014, to treat prostate cancer; and search for drugs that can be combined with selumetinib for pancreatic cancer.
Meanwhile, Forma and Cancer Research UK’s commercialization arm, Cancer Research Technology, have established a consortium to develop tools, technologies, and drug candidates related to a family of targets called deubiquitinating enzymes.
Both deals depart from traditional industry-academia partnerships, which usually focus on a discrete project such as developing a cell line, notes Forma CEO Steven Tregay.
Today, companies want to tap a broad range of skills that can jump-start work in a disease area. A handful of nonprofits like CRT have been particularly attractive partners, according to Tregay, because they fund research, aggregate intellectual property, and most important, bring together teams of scientists from multiple institutions. “Having that type of alignment across the group is powerful,” he says.