Big Pharma Keeps Up Pursuit of Academic Researchers

In its quest to find new cures and replace drugs that are losing their patent protection, Big Pharma continues to pursue collaborations with university researchers, even amid reports that some of the earlier arrangements have fizzled.

On Monday, Vanderbilt University and AstraZeneca announced a new partnership under which the company will license several compounds for treating psychosis and symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The compounds were developed at Vanderbilt with funds from the National Institutes of Health.

The company will also support research at the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery, one of several academic entities working closely with major pharmaceutical companies. AstraZeneca would not provide any financial details about the research support or license.

P. Jeffrey Conn, who runs the Vanderbilt center, said some of the  NIH support had been designed to finance research that would allow scientists to conduct the kind of development work that does not typically take place in an academic setting, in order to produce compounds that would be attractive to companies for licensing as “drug candidates.”

Such deals are not without controversy, with critics questioning whether universities are letting drug-company interests overly influence their research agendas. And as recently reported by the Associated Press, sometimes the arrangements founder because of a company’s shifting priorities. That was apparently the case with a partnership between Washington University in St. Louis and Pfizer that was intended to last five years but ended in 2012 after just two.

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