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AstraZeneca, Pfizer team with Quebec on research centre

Centrum multivitamins are shown on the packaging line at the Pfizer plant in Montreal, Thursday, July 12, 2012. Pfizer Canada is teaming with AstraZeneca Canada and the government of Quebec on a new research facility.


Two foreign pharmaceutical giants are teaming up with the Quebec government to create a life sciences research centre that is touted as a new R&D model in the industry.

AstraZeneca Canada, Pfizer Canada Inc. and the province say a total of $100-million over five years will be invested in the centre – dubbed the NÉOMED Institute.

The facility is to act as a bridge between the private sector and academic research and also bring together the various players in the R&D chain, the two companies said in a news release Friday.

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More than 100 professionals are expected to be working in the centre when it is fully up and running.

AstraZeneca is kicking in $35-million, including land, a neuroscience basic research facility and cutting-edge laboratory equipment. The company is also donating intellectual property rights to three of its pain molecules and projects, as well as $5-million to support institute activities.

Pfizer is contributing about $3.5-million and Quebec is putting in $28-million.

The institute's main goal is to stimulate research and collaboration and facilitate the transition from academic research to new-drug development, the companies say.

"The cost of discovering new drugs keeps rising and pharmaceutical companies need to adapt," Max Fehlmann, the institute's new president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

"The NÉOMED Institute, acting as a competitive actor in the drug development sector, will allow Quebec's scientists to make the bridge between academic innovations and commercial opportunities in a better way."

The move is a welcome change from the closures of R&D and manufacturing centres in Quebec in recent years, resulting in the loss of thousands of high-paying jobs.

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Big pharma companies around the world have been consolidating operations and cutting costs as they struggle with the fallout from fewer blockbuster drugs coming to market, expiring patents and the economic slowdown.

Part of their strategy is a shift to a model in which they farm out the risks of new-drug development to smaller or upstart firms in order to concentrate on later stage drugs and marketing.

For example, GlaxoSmithKline last year launched a $50-million fund -- GSK Canada Life Sciences Innovation Canada Fund -- to promote commercialization of early stage breakthrough research in Canada.

Venture capital firm Lumira Capital Corp. recently received funding from Merck & Co.

Lumira is also managing two funds to which Merck has contributed about $40-million.

Merck shut down its therapeutic research facility in Montreal's west island in 2010.

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