AstraZeneca: Five innovations from Cambridge's new £1bn headquarters

The Discover Centre is a research and development lab for AstraZeneca on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.
AztraZeneca's new Cambridge headquarters. Credit: ITV News Anglia

During the pandemic, Cambridge-based AstraZeneca became a household name for its role in creating a Covid-19 vaccination alongside scientists from Oxford University.

But the biopharmaceutical company has also led the way in several other cutting-edge scientific innovations.

AstraZeneca became widely known during the pandemic for helping to create a Covid-19 vaccine. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The company has more than 76,000 employees worldwide, and its work focuses on developing prescription medication in areas such as oncology, rare diseases and the respiratory system.

Much of that work will now be driven from its new £1bn Cambridge headquarters - so here are five ways that the research centre is leading the way.

1. 'Heart-in-a-jar'

In collaboration with biotech company Novoheart, scientists at AZ are re-creating miniature organs to help them better understand things like the human heart.

A mini beating heart is created using the company's "3D human ventricular cardiac organoid chamber" - better known as the heart-in-a-jar. Scientists hope it will help them understand the characteristics of heart failure better, and therefore get treatments to patients quicker.

Model of the human heart. Credit: ITV News

2. Functional genomics

Scientists are finding new ways of understanding how human genes work. Through what they call 'functional geonomics', AZ is testing the function of a given gene in a relevant disease model. And that, they say, will help them understand the complex relationship between our DNA and disease.

DNA samples. Credit: ITV News

3. Using 'living medicines' to find cancer cells hiding in the body

Scientist are looking at regenerating tissues and organs by extracting a patient's own cells or using cells which have been expanded in the lab or enhanced through genetic engineering.

Those cells are then used to produce "living medicines" and are administered to the patient - known as cell therapy. It builds on research that analyses the way serious diseases affect different parts of the body.

The aim is to find ways to target and arm these living medicines to locate and destroy cancer cells that hide in the body, including even the hardest-to-treat solid tumours.

AZ is using 'living medicine' to locate cancer cells in the body. Credit: ITV News

4. Cancer 'warheads'

AZ scientists say they are "re-defining" cancer by replacing chemotherapy with targeted, personalised therapies. While chemo kills cancer cells, it also impacts healthy ones too.

AZ is working on a tailored treatment it calls "the warhead". It is designed to kill cells and - unlike chemotherapy - scientists can now achieve precise cancer cell killing by attaching the warhead to an antibody, that provides cancer cell selectivity  – for example by targeting a protein that is highly expressed in breast cancer.

AstraZeneca wants to transform the future of cancer treatment. Credit: ITV News.

 5. Clinical trials of the future

AstraZeneca is hoping to change the way pharmaceutical companies conduct clinical research, encouraging a more "holistic and human-centred" type of care.

Scientists want to do this by altering the design of clinical trials themselves in a way that gives patients the best experience possible.

Read more about science innovation in the Anglia region here: