AstraZeneca plans tech center in Russia, aims to use informatics to predict drug safety

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AstraZeneca wants to invest in advanced software to help predict the safety and efficacy of drugs. The London-based drugmaker ($AZN) plans to open a "Predictive Science Centre" in St. Petersburg, part of a broader plan that will result in pumping more than $1.2 billion into the Russian economy over the next five years.

With a focus on predicting the risks and benefits of new medicines, the drug company plans to tap locals in Russia to develop the needed bioinformatics, data analysis capabilities, software and other tools for the center, the firm announced this morning. The company also plans to have 30 employees work at the center through a deal with the St. Petersburg government involving Russian companies and groups that will be announced later this week. In addition to the center, AstraZeneca started construction earlier this year of on a $150 million drug plant in the Kaluga region of Russia and has forged collaborations with research institutes in the country, where it now employs more than 1,000 people.

"Russia is a dynamic economy where our growing investments will help us to offer to patients AstraZeneca's portfolio of innovative medicines," AstraZeneca CEO David Brennan said, speaking in St. Petersburg. "We are pleased to contribute to the development of an innovative healthcare sector through our local research and manufacturing capabilities, established operations, and scientific and educational collaborations."

While the drugmaker's investment boosts its presence in a market of growing importance in the pharma game, AstraZeneca also appears to be placing a bet on computer systems to make its R&D more efficient. It's not alone. For instance, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Biogen Idec ($BIIB) have been early adopters of supercomputing systems that can crunch molecular data to identify important predictive biomarkers of how well a drug will work in certain patients. And data analytics firms such as GNS Healthcare, Selventa, and TIBCO Spotfire have been working with developers on drug R&D projects like this for years.

- here's the AstraZeneca release
- read the Reuters report

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