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AstraZeneca snaps up drug-discovery software from Cambridge startup

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AstraZeneca ($AZN) has again turned to a software startup to aid its drug research. Cambridge, U.K.-based Optibrium scored a licensing deal form the British drug giant, which has decided to adopt the small company's StarDrop software for hunting down pharma compounds for development.

As the London-based drugmaker seeks efficient ways to conduct drug R&D, AstraZeneca has announced numerous deals with software vendors, some of which most people had never heard of before. The company has assembled multiple software tools, for example, to support its virtual neuroscience group. Without its own labs, AZ's neuroscience group tapped the upstart Assay Depot last year for an online portal that connects the pharma company's researchers with preclinical CRO outfits. The same virtual group also signed on as an early adopter of Knode's search engine for scientific experts.

In the Optibrium deal, AstraZeneca has gained a global license to the startup's StarDrop and the ADME-QSAR and Auto-Modeller. The StarDrop software aims to aid researchers in evaluating various aspects of compounds that could impact whether the molecules make viable drug candidates. Like many drugmakers, AstraZeneca uses software to streamline the discovery process in hopes of improving the historically low odds of success of drug candidates in clinical trials.

"Drug metabolism, together with the prediction of human kinetics and dose, is a multi-objective optimisation problem," said Dr. Patrick Barton, AstraZeneca DMPK, in a statement. "We seek a compromise between potency, selectivity, pharmacokinetic and toxicological profiles to discover a safe and efficacious drug."

Optibrium was formed through a 2009 spinoff from BioFocus, and the startup's founding team began developing the StarDrop software in 2003. It's typically a big coup for life sciences software vendors to land global licensing deals with Big Pharma companies like AstraZeneca, which deploy such tools for many researchers around the world.

- here's the release

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