AstraZeneca: driving scientific innovation through a collaborative post-doctoral programme

AstraZeneca: driving scientific innovation through a collaborative post-doctoral programme

Connecting like-minded individuals from across industry and academia is helping to meet the needs of patients around the world.

This case study originally appeared on page 50 of the State of the Relationship Report. The report outlines the state of university-business collaboration in the UK, featuring expert views and over forty case studies. Read the full report.

In 2011, global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca began an organisation-wide post-doctoral programme in the UK to help push the boundaries of novel science and support scientific discovery.

Previously, the company’s approach to post-doctoral study was ad hoc and fragmented, says its Vice President of Strategy - Respiratory Inflammation Autoimmunity iMed, Rose Maciewicz. “This new programme is designed to encourage greater interaction with academia, bringing more people into the lab to undertake cutting edge science and help develop and inspire the next generation of talented, scientific minds,” she says.

The programme funds post-doctoral projects originating from across the research areas and scientific disciplines within the company, addressing fundamental challenges that underpin drug discovery and development. This generates opportunities for academic researchers to innovate not only in the UK, but across the company’s other research sites in the USA and Sweden too.

Five calls for project proposals have been made since the programme began – with both the number and quality of ideas increasing each time. At the end of 2013, more than 1,000 proposals had been evaluated by a panel of its internal senior scientists, with a rigorous selection criteria focused on novelty and scientific quality.

There are currently about 80 post-doc projects underway, of which more than a third are based in the UK.

“When industry and academia come together, great ideas grow,” says Maciewicz. “Our programme is the perfect platform for this collaboration.”

Each project initially spans two years, and wherever possible an external academic supervisor maintains the connection by working closely with the student. The company’s first post-docs are now in the final stages of their projects. As they consider whether to return to academia or stay within industry to build their careers, AstraZeneca recognises the importance of maintaining closer working relationships between academia and business to stimulate innovative science.

One such example is Ilenia Giangreco. Working with the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre (CCDC), one of AstraZeneca’s established collaborators, Giangreco’s project developed new proteinligand overlay algorithms that enables a better understanding of these complexes. The CCDC has now recruited Giangreco and, as AstraZeneca moves its UK research to a new Cambridge headquarters, her supervisor Dave Cosgrove, Principal Scientist at AstraZeneca, hopes the collaboration will continue to grow. “It is a definite plus having these sorts of relationships with academia. The post-doc programme creates exciting opportunities for further collaboration and idea generation”, he says.

The programme has made a positive impact elsewhere across the company too. Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President - Innovative Medicines and Early Development, says: “Not only has it raised the quality of our scientific research, it’s helped us to create an open, collaborative environment where great science and bluesky thinking can really thrive.”

“The programme speaks to our core values of scientific leadership,” adds Maciewicz. “We are building relationships with the external world and as students leave us, hopefully they will be good ambassadors for AstraZeneca.”

As a result of its success, AstraZeneca plans a further expansion of the programme in 2014 and is working with colleagues in academia to identify more ways to connect like-minded individuals who share a passion for resolving the unmet needs of patients around the world.

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