AstraZeneca is to hand over free of charge to external scientists full access to more than 20 experimental drugs on which it has ceased research, in a pioneering effort to boost medical discovery. The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical group will offer academics the chance to use its compounds – nearly all of them still on patent – and to examine the results of safety and efficacy tests it has already conducted in animals and humans. By “crowdsourcing” the compounds to top scientists, the move could lead to the development of new treatments, offering AstraZeneca the prospect of commercial gain while reducing the amount of investment it will make itself. If the initiative is successful, it could be a model for future collaboration that other pharma companies would use. The agreement with the Medical Research Council, which will offer £10m ($15m) in initial funding to researchers wanting to study the drugs, is more wide ranging than previous similar industry deals, most of which have focused on “neglected” diseases such as malaria. Sir John Savill, chief executive of the council, said: “This is a win, win, win, for the academic community, AZ which connects itself to academics, and patients. I don’t think [the compounds] have necessarily had all the value flogged out of them.” Among the 22 compounds to be made public on Monday, one is Saracatanib, a drug studied in late-stage trials for solid tumours in cancer. Others have potential in Alzheimer’s and cardio-vascular disease. Some have been tested in humans and others only in animals. It may prove difficult for universities to make discoveries through identifying and funding tests on drugs which the company has already failed to do despite investing substantial sums. But some of the compounds were mothballed by AstraZeneca either because it forecast the commercial market to be too small or the treatments fell outside the strategic areas on which it focused. The move will provide academic researchers with opportunities to gain access to data and have access to drugs long before the findings of the costly experiments already undertaken by the company would have been published. It offers the opportunity to understand basic biology and disease mechanisms, and could also mean the “repurposing” of drugs for illnesses other than those which were under investigation by AstraZeneca. The action reflects a growing trend in the pharmaceutical industry to be more open and work in co-operation with external researchers in efforts to more efficiently identify potential treatments. Clive Morris, vice-president and head of new opportunities at AstraZeneca’s iMed innovation units, said: “All the compounds are still owned by AstraZeneca, but any new intellectual property would belong to the academic institution. If we wanted to move these compounds forward, we would negotiate. We’ll provide compounds, data and expertise. We see this as true collaboration rather than as a hand-off approach.”