AstraZeneca is a British-Swedish, multinational biopharmaceutical company with headquarters in Cambridge, England. The company was founded in 1999 through the merger of the British Zeneca Group and the Swedish Astra AB. AstraZeneca’s drug business focuses on seven main medical fields: inflammation and autoimmunity, cardiovascular, neuroscience, renal and metabolism, infection, oncology, and respiratory.
Astra AB was founded in 1913 in Södertälje, Sweden by 400 doctors who focused on developing pharmaceutical products and medical devices. Eighty years later, in 1993, Zeneca Group was founded when its parent company ICI demerged and functioned as a bioscience company that produced pharmaceuticals, agricultural and specialty chemicals, and disease-specific healthcare services. In 1999, the two companies merged to form AstraZeneca.
The merger of Astra and Zeneca aimed to improve the combined companies’ ability to deliver long term growth. AstraZeneca sought to expand global power and reach in sales and marketing, to function with greater financial flexibility, and to create a stronger research and design platform. Since its formation, the company has made numerous corporate acquisitions, including Cambridge Antibody Technology (in 2006), MedImmune (in 2007), Spirogen (in 2013) and Definiens (by MedImmune in 2014).
Initially, AstraZeneca explored five main areas of research – cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, oncology, and local and general anesthesia. Though the company has since widened its research focus, these original research goals continue to be prioritized fields of study. AstraZeneca has three main research and development centers located in Cambridge, England, Gothenburg, Sweden, and Maryland, U.S.
Beginning its journey in 1953, AstraZeneca US became one of the first pharmaceutical companies operating in the United States. The company has offices in Wilmington, DE, Gaithersburg, MD, and Boston, MA.
AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation was established in 1993, separate from the commercial entity, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. The foundation is a Delaware nonprofit corporation with charitable intentions to promote public awareness of healthcare issues, improve public education of medical knowledge, and support or contribute to organizations consistent with its charitable purpose.
The foundation’s work has yielded the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Legacy Program, an initiative concentrated on improving breast cancer awareness. The foundation also birthed the AstraZeneca Employee Disaster Relief Fund, a program focused on providing support for AstraZeneca employees in times of U.S., federally declared disaster. Connections for Cardiovascular Health (CCH) is another organization the foundation houses. The CCH functions as nonprofit funding programs that provide innovative, community-based approaches aimed at improving cardiovascular health across the United States, especially those directed at aiding underserved communities. In 2020, the Foundation launched CCH Next Generation, an initiative meant to build on the legacy of the CCH program.
AstraZeneca provides financial support to programs that educate patients and their families with the hopes of strengthening the quality of the care provided. The company supports a variety of nonprofit organizations related to their three core therapeutic areas: cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, oncology, and respiratory diseases. In addition, AstraZeneca has formed their own programs, namely My MBC Story and Beyond Pink, Lungprint, LVNG With, and Save Your Breath.
AstraZeneca’s acoustic sample management solution increases the throughput of sampling by automating sample dispensing and sample retrieval, which increases the efficiency and speed of sample analysis. The system also minimizes the wastage of samples, allowing for a single sample to be used multiple times. AstraZeneca worked with Brooks Life Sciences, Beckman Coulter Life Sciences, and Titian Software to develop their fully automated acoustic sample management solution.
AstraZeneca’s molecular imaging system utilizes innovations in mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) to see the effects of a compound on the human body at a cellular level. This imaging system is integral in pharmaceutical development, and MSI is a more efficient and precise method of capturing and analyzing molecules. Traditional techniques of histology and histopathology involved staining a tissue sample and looking for particular cellular behaviors or changes through a microscope. Using MSI allows AstraZeneca to conduct a more detailed and efficient study of each sample through their implementation of machine learning and AI.
AstraZeneca’s implementation of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) allows for greater precision in the field of structure-based drug design, which allows for the design of drugs that target specific proteins based on their shape. Cryo-EM works by flash-freezing a microscopic protein sample before photographing it from multiple angles. Implementing this technology has helped AstraZeneca succeed in designing drugs targeting specific proteins. The company has used this technology to help identify the human ATM gene, which is a key trigger in DNA damage and a prime candidate for oncology treatments. AstraZeneca has also utilized Cryo-EM technology to reveal the structure of the receptor tyrosine kinase RET, which is relevant in neurodegenerative disease and diabetes.
AstraZeneca uses functional genomics, a drug discovery platform that examines the functional effects of DNA, in order to determine how DNA can cause and impact disease. The company utilizes this method to identify specific genes that control biological processes, determine resistance to medication, or cause sensitivity to treatment. AstraZeneca was one of the first pharmaceutical companies to invest in this technology, setting up dedicated research labs in Gothenburg and Cambridge in 2014.
AstraZeneca’s research into multi-omics has helped develop a deeper understanding of genetics by combining genomics, or the mapping of all human genes and their interactions, with the functional effects of the human genome. AstraZeneca hopes to utilize this deeper understanding of genetics in conjunction with AI to simulate genomic behavior under different circumstances. This technology would allow the company to identify new drug targets and explore different avenues in pharmaceutical treatment.
The AstraZeneca iLab in Gothenburg, Sweden, is a prototype of a fully automated laboratory operating on AI. The purpose of the lab is to attempt to significantly increase the efficiency of the design-make-test-analyze cycle (DMTA) of drug discovery. Many fields of drug discovery are driven by the DMTA cycle, which can be incredibly time consuming. AstraZeneca’s lab has the potential to run multiple parallel cycles and automate the process, which would increase the efficiency and speed of each step. With this implementation of AI and automation, AstraZeneca hopes to reduce the time needed to identify potential drug candidates by half.
In March 2020, AstraZeneca donated 9 million facemasks to 49 countries worldwide. A month later, the company began working with GlaxoSmithKline and the University of Cambridge to develop a new laboratory capable of conducting 30,000 COVID-19 tests per day. AstraZeneca also initiated clinical trials to investigate new and existing medications, specifically Calquence, as possible treatment methods for COVID-19.
In June 2020, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) confirmed that the third phase of testing for potential vaccines developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca would begin in July 2020. In November 2020, AstraZeneca announced that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, AZD1222, was 70% effective. Since the original announcement, more research has been conducted and determined that the vaccine has the potential to prevent 90% of people from developing COVID-19 symptoms.
The vaccine was approved for emergency use in the United Kingdom on December, 30 2020 and the first vaccination was administered on January 4, 2021. India has since approved the AZD1222 vaccine and announced that the shot would be made locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII) under the name Covishield. AstraZeneca has also mobilized research efforts to advance the development of a novel coronavirus-neutralizing long-acting antibody combination for the potential prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
The first AZD1222 vaccination was administered in the UK to a man named Brian Pinker.
India has approved the AZD1222 vaccine for use and has announced that the shot will be made locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII) under the name Covishield.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, AZD1222, was approved for emergency use in the UK.
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