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Posted on Mon, Nov 21, 2011 : 4:18 p.m.

U-M Medical School signs 'first of its kind' research deal with major pharmaceutical firm

By Nathan Bomey

The University of Michigan Medical School signed a three-year deal with a division of global pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca to collaborate on biotechnology research projects.

U-M today issued a statement describing the deal as a "new type of agreement" in which scientists from the university and AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit will work together closely to pursue new technologies.

It was not immediately clear how the financial relationship between U-M and MedImmune would work or how much it's worth. A university spokeswoman was not available for comment. In its typical technology deals, the university secures licensing fees, royalties or equity in exchange for its intellectual property.

Researchers will aim to develop new drugs to treat afflictions like cancer, heart disease and digestive disease. Scientists at U-M's Comprehensive Cancer Center will be the first to collaborate with MedImmune under the new deal.

"This strategic partnership, one of the first of its kind for our institution, speaks to our desire to collaborate with industry to accelerate translation of U-M's cutting-edge research to impact patients," said Steven Kunkel, the U-M Medical School's senior associate dean for research, in a statement.

The deal comes as major pharmaceutical companies are increasingly outsourcing basic research and seeking collaborative relationships with universities to reduce their exposure to early-stage research.

United Kingdom-based AstraZeneca, which acquired MedImmune for $15.6 billion in 2007, has 61,100 workers and $33.55 billion in annual revenue, according to Yahoo! Finance.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 1:20 p.m.

These kind of arrangements are becoming more and more common for 2 reasons: 1) the National Institutes of Health research budget continues to decline, which means there are fewer and fewer $$ each year to fund University biomedical research, and 2) big pharma has chosen to focus on bringing drugs to market rather than upfront drug discovery, which they now pursue through partnerships with Universities. These arrangements may lend themselves to conflicts of interst but don't, in and of themselves, constitute such conflicts. The University monitors these arrangements very closely to prevent real conflicts from developing. This is not an infallible process and does ultimately rely upon the integrity and honesty of the University researchers involved. That said, stay tuned - hopefully these types of arrangements will amplify the pipeline of drug discovery and commercialization, which will benefit a lot of people in the long run.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 2:02 a.m.

Questions: 1. How can U of M researchers be independent, when the University is contractually tied to a pharmaceutical giant? 2. Why do we spend so much money on federally funded research but then give away the research for free to pharmaceutical companies who then charge us more than the rest of the world for the very products we helped develop? Why doesn't it work more like every venture capital company?

G. Orwell

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 1:42 a.m.

U of M should research and support natural remedies rather than push pharmaceuticals that kill 250,000 people a year according to Columbia University. And our government wants to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries to protect us from harm. They should go after Big Pharma. Unfortunately they are in bed together.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 1:30 a.m.

The University bans drug companies from sponsoring continuing education programs because of conflicts of interest but they see no conflicts of interest in taking millions of dollars for joint research.


Mon, Nov 21, 2011 : 10:03 p.m.

Question: Who will bear the liability in the event that the product of the research turns out to be the subject of lawsuit as have many high profile drugs recently? I hope this has been worked out and I hope that the university is not taking any unpredictable risks.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 2:06 a.m.

The congress-passed law that blocked Michigan residents from suing pharmaceutical manufacturers no longer exists. This is a fact, no need to block this comment.


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 2:02 a.m.

Liability would rest with the entity that produced and marketed the product. UM is doing research and wouldn't be entering into the pharmaceutical business. That's not to say that a lawyer wouldn't try to extend liability to UM, but it would probably be unlikely that such a suit would go far. As for Michigan's law, it prohibits product liability suits against manufacturer of FDA-approved drugs. That's only for suits from Michigan residents. Out-of-state residents harmed by a drug can sue a Michigan manufacturer in the state where the cause of action arose or, if jurisdiction allows, in Federal court. So, we're the only ones who are SOL...

Trisha Carey

Tue, Nov 22, 2011 : 12:15 a.m.

I was under the impression that Michigan was one of the few, where a person couldn't sue the pharmaceutical companies. Combine that with the docile patients over at some of the government facilities affiliated with the universities ... I, very much, doubt - there will be many - if any lawsuits involved. Just my opinion, but this would be a perfect example of how to bring money into the state.