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AstraZeneca, MMV in Malaria Research Pact

Yet another company is opening up its molecular vault to help speed the development of drugs for neglected diseases. AstraZeneca will allow the non-profit Medicines to sift through the 500,000 compounds in its library to test for activity against P. falciparum, the worst of the malaria parasites.

MMV has enlisted Vicky Avery, professor at the Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, to conduct the screening. If Avery finds any promising compounds, AstraZeneca will start investigating their viability as drugs out of its Bangalore, India, R&D facility.

The deal marks the second neglected diseases-related pact signed by AstraZeneca in recent months. In May, the company teamed with the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development to create a joint portfolio of compounds active against tuberculosis.

AstraZeneca joins the growing ranks of pharma companies moving beyond simple donations of medicines to actually devoting resources and lab time to the development of desperately needed new treatments for diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and sleeping sickness. Among the recent efforts by pharma firms: GlaxoSmithKline and Alnylam have established a patent pool that is open to any researcher working on neglected diseases;  Lilly, Merck, and Pfizer have created the Asian Cancer Research Group, a non-profit that will generate a freely-available pharmacogenetic cancer database; and Merck and Wellcome Trust have set up MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories, a lab in India that is expected to eventually employ some 60 scientists, all working towards finding or improving vaccines for the developing world.

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