This week, the University of Manchester said that it has signed a translational research collaboration with AstraZeneca in a number of therapeutic areas, including cancer, inflammatory disease, diabetes, and obesity.
The agreement, which consolidates a number of existing collaborations between university researchers and the pharmaceutical firm, has a very strong informatics component, according to University of Manchester officials.
"We're trying to provide the glue between academia, health service, and industry," Iain Buchan, director of the Northwest Institute for Bio-Health Informatics at the University of Manchester, told BioInform.
The goal of the effort, Buchan said, is to "bring together the different scales of informatics — to link the bioinformatics to the health informatics, to enable us to use patient data more effectively, and to feed in the advances in functional biological analysis to areas of medical research quickly."
Buchan identified three principal scales that the effort will address: molecular, clinical, and population.
"In terms of population studies, the old model is for specifically funded research projects that are completely separate from routine care. But the future is capturing a lot of data from routine care that is relevant to understanding exactly how safe and effective particular medicines are, and where new developments need to expand."
"There might be some studies [in which] you want to look at molecular [properties] at a population level, for which we can't handle that volume of data efficiently, and we need to develop mechanisms where we can handle that volume of data," he said. "Particularly when we've got a mixture of special collection data and routinely collected data."
The agreement with AstraZeneca is expected to advance translational research through a tighter integration between these different scales. "The translation is between the lab and the clinical problem, between different research groups, between industrial and academic, and between different scales of research," he said.
"In terms of population studies, the old model is for specifically funded research projects that are completely separate from routine care. But the future is capturing a lot of data from routine care that is relevant to understanding exactly how safe and effective particular medicines are, and where new developments need to expand," he said.
Ian Madley, life science business development manager at the University of Manchester, said that AstraZeneca and the university "wanted to try and move away from a situation where we were looking at AstraZeneca as a source of money and they were looking at us as a source of research output."
The goal in forging the new agreement, he said, was to move towards a more collaborative model and away from "single-transactional" activities. Under the terms of the agreement, the university and AstraZeneca may jointly seek additional funding through governmental or other sources, he added.
The University of Manchester, formed in 2004 by the merger of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the Victoria University of Manchester, has a "network of bioinformatics that is big and linked into different disease areas and different disciplines — both vertically focused on diseases and horizontally focused on methods," Buchan said.
Madley noted that AstraZeneca's informatics activities are more closely tied to therapeutic areas. "They have teams of people focusing on cancer and infection and neuroscience and things like that. And obviously, they have informatics people embedded in each of those teams, but they don't necessarily look at informatics across all of the teams as one exercise," he said.
"One of the ways that we hope to be able to add some value to them is that we're looking at informatics as a specialty that goes across a whole range of different areas, and that has potential to interact [with] a number of their therapeutic teams," he said.
Madley said that the collaboration is still at a very early stage, and though the partners have identified a number of broad research goals "we haven't set up any metrics yet" to gauge the success of the effort.
— Bernadette Toner ([email protected])