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AstraZeneca, VU collaborate to develop new treatments for major brain disorders

Jan. 14, 2013, 1:46 PM

AstraZeneca and Vanderbilt University have signed a research collaboration agreement to identify candidate drugs aimed at treating psychosis and other neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with major brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca, a global biopharmaceutical company, has exclusively licensed rights to compounds developed by the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD) that act on the M4 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor.

The compounds were developed through Vanderbilt’s participation in the National Cooperative Drug Discovery and Development Group program supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (grant U01 MH087965).

Vanderbilt University and AstraZeneca will continue to collaborate to identify additional M4 compounds and further develop the existing compounds. Vanderbilt will receive an upfront payment, research funding for two years as well as success-based milestones and royalties on global sales of products developed under the collaboration.

“We believe the new model for furthering neuroscience drug discovery created by AstraZeneca fits perfectly with the mission of the VCNDD, making this an ideal partnership for advancing treatment of these devastating disorders,” said P. Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., VCNDD director and Lee E. Limbird Professor in Pharmacology.

“Ultimately it takes the pharmaceutical industry to fully develop and market a drug. Anything we can do to increase the probability of success and build a clear rationale for AstraZeneca to invest in clinical trials for this area of unmet medical need will have tremendous impact on patients and the economy,” Conn said.

This exciting new collaboration with AstraZeneca further exemplifies the unique, industry-style drug discovery engine that the VCNDD has established within a traditional academic environment,” added Craig Lindsley, Ph.D., VCNDD director of Medicinal Chemistry and William K. Warren Jr. Chair in Medicine.

“AstraZeneca is interested in pursuing research collaborations across all areas of neuroscience research where the science is compelling,” said Mike Poole, M.D., vice president of the AstraZeneca Neuroscience Innovative Medicines Unit.

“We believe that combining AstraZeneca’s deep experience in drug development and translational science with VCNDD’s expertise in drug discovery is an important step toward bringing new medicines forward for people who are suffering from neurodegenerative diseases,” Poole said.

Recent studies suggest that selective activators of subtypes of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) improve certain cognitive impairments and behavioral disturbances associated with neuropsychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

In animal models, selective activation of one of these receptors, M4, through positive allosteric modulation, blocks dopamine release in several key brain regions, has antipsychotic-like effects, and improves cognitive performance.

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