AstraZeneca will team up with Russia’s N.N. Petrov Institute of Oncology to identify genetic mutations in cancer patients, in one of the first-ever collaborations between a global pharma giant and a Russian research institution, the partners said today.

The collaboration joins Petrov Institute’s research infrastructure and scientific expertise in St. Petersburg, Russia, with AZ’s global R&D effort in oncology. Investigators from Petrov Institute and AstraZeneca’s Oncology Innovative Medicines group will work at centers worldwide to learn the roles genetic mutations play in the growth and spread of undisclosed types of cancer.

The partners said they hope their research will lead to development of better therapies, improvements in disease management and new approaches to personalized healthcare—identified both by AZ as a core R&D capability and by the Russian government as a priority within its Healthcare Development 2020 program.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Oncology is one of eight core disease categories identified by AZ as areas of interest for partnerships: “Our small and large molecule research focuses on cancer of the breast, prostate, gastrointestinal tract, lung, as well as haematological malignancies, ‘niche’ cancers, novel technologies, and biomarkers,” the company states on its website.

The Petrov Institute, which includes a 405-bed hospital, says its activities center on:

  • Study of cancer mechanisms, the influence of internal and external factors on cancer development and prevention;
  • Biochemical, molecular and immunological factors in assessing the risk of cancer appearance;
  • Development of solid tumor biotherapy methods, such as dendrite cells vaccines, genotherapy, and cytokines;
  • Quality-of-life enhancement for cancer patients by improving organ-saving surgery, and introducing new drugs and methods for improving tolerance and reducing toxicity of anticancer therapy;
  • Study of cancer mortality, morbidity, and demography—and the prognostic dynamics of these indices in the future through cancer registries.

AZ has emphasized its interest in collaborating with Russian academic institutions. In November, the company announced a research collaboration with Russian partners that included establishing Russia’s first biobank, with a core laboratory facility and a large national network of participating organizations committed to ethical collection and characterization of biological samples.

Russia is among nations AZ defines as emerging markets, which collectively finished the fourth quarter of last year with a 6% rise in revenue over Q4 2011, to $1.488 billion.

“The R&D eco-systems of Russia and other emerging economies such as China, Brazil, and India are becoming increasingly important sources of innovation in medical science. We believe that partnering and collaborating with biotech companies and best-in-class academic institutions like the Petrov Institute is a central element of our R&D strategy to make a significant contribution to the delivery of innovative medicines for patients, both in Russia and across the globe,” Ajay Gautam, AZ’s executive director, Asia and Emerging Markets R&D, said in a statement.

The research collaboration with the Petrov Institute is AZ’s first to be announced since the pharma giant restructured its R&D effort last month. AZ CEO Pascal Soriot eliminated the positions of R&D president and evp, global commercial—and with them, the jobs of the men holding those positions—as part of his effort to revive AZ’s R&D by using his previous experience as CEO of Roche’s pharmaceutical division in integrating a biotech company and making deals.

AZ has struggled in recent years to recover from several late-stage setbacks with experimental medicines the company had counted on to make up for sales revenues set to be lost through 2014 due to the “patent cliff” expiration of several brand-name drugs.

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