AZs new PR&D centre leverages Indian chemistry expertise

By Peter Mansell

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Astrazeneca, Pharmacology

AstraZeneca is leveraging the process chemistry expertise
accumulated in India's generics industry and universities by
opening a $15m (€11.3m) process research and development (PR&D)
laboratory next to its existing research centre for tuberculosis in
Bangalore.

The newly inaugurated 8,000sq m facility on AstraZeneca's Hebbal campus can accommodate up to 75 process scientists as well as supporting office and engineering staff. The Bangalore laboratory will both consolidate the existing drug discovery programme for tuberculosis at the site and bolster the UK company's global PR&D network. This consists of one facility apiece in the UK and Sweden, plus a pending UK PR&D laboratory at AstraZeneca's Macclesfield site that is expected to start operating by mid-2009. The company, whose research pipeline has come under critical scrutiny following a succession of damp squibs in late-stage development, has been investing heavily of late in new R&D resources, partnerships and acquisitions. At the same time, it has been making deep cuts to boost productivity and cost efficiency in its supply chain. The recent announcement that 700 manufacturing and supply jobs would go at Macclesfield contrasted pointedly with the £63.5m (€93.6 million) AstraZeneca is investing in its new PR&D laboratory at the same site. A stronger flow of new compounds increases the need for PR&D specialists, who provide a bridge between drug discovery and manufacturing by designing the routes and processes leading to bulk production of an active pharmaceutical ingredient. PR&D at AstraZeneca embraces analytical chemistry, development manufacture, process chemistry, process engineering, project management, business development and Good Manufacturing Practice Quality Assurance. Dr Sudhir Nambiar, director, PR&D for AstraZeneca India, said the Bangalore facility was "an exciting challenge for the skilled and dedicated Indian chemists who have already prove themselves in the generic area."​ The company planned to recruit additional scientists "from the organic, analytical and process engineering disciplines from universities directly or with varying levels of local/overseas industrial experience",​ he added. A report last year by consultants McKinsey & Company identified research and development as one of the pharmaceutical functions most at risk of being shifted to lower-cost offshore locations. The offshoring trend was expected grow at a rate of 16 per cent per annum to include 21,000 employees by 2008. With an estimated 35 per cent of industry costs going on staff, pharmaceutical analyst Stewart Adkins has calculated that $1.1bn a year could be saved if 70 per cent of production staff, 30 per cent of R&D staff and 20 per cent of administration staff were sourced from cheaper markets such as India and China. However, AstraZeneca spokesman Steve Brown played down the cost advantages of siting PR&D in Bangalore. The company set up its R&D infrastructure on the basis of centres of excellence, he noted, and India was "a dynamic place to be."​ The investment also made sense in terms of synergies with the existing discovery centre for tuberculosis. In a similar vein, Brown noted, it was strategic rather than just cost considerations that drove last year's announcement of a three-year, $100m investment in translational science in China. The decision was predicated on the superior efficacy of Iressa (gefitinib), AstraZeneca's ill-fated treatment for lung cancer, in Asian over Western patients, he explained. According to AstraZeneca, the co-location of Discovery and PR&D at Bangalore will help the company to "maximize scientific interactions and enable shared use of the PR&D infrastructure."​ All the same, the company says its current tuberculosis research programmes are still three to four years away from delivering a candidate drug for human trials.

Related topics: Contract Manufacturing & Logistics

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