‘Partners in crime’: Cambridge University under fire for new AstraZeneca partnership

Elsa Maishman 30 July 2015

Cambridge University has announced a new partnership with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, involving three joint schemes which will in total create more than 80 science PhD scholarships and eight clinical lectureships over the next five years. 

AstraZeneca will fund at least nine four-year PhD scholarships every year, across the departments of chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology. The firm will also have the opportunity to enrol up to two of its employees annually as PhD students in one or more of the departments.

MedImmune, AstraZeneca’s global biologics research and development arm, will support up to six scholarships per year. Students will be appointed to these positions by the University, and guided by supervisors from Cambridge and from AstraZeneca. Their time will be divided between the University and the laboratories of MedImmune.

As part of the University’s new Experimental Medicine Initiative, AstraZeneca and MedImmune will fund one PhD scholarship and two academic clinical lectureships annually for four years . Each post will continue for up to four years, with the subsequent opportunity for placements within AstraZeneca or MedImmune.

All three schemes will begin this autumn. 

Despite an enthusiastic welcome from the vice-chancellor of the University, AstraZeneca's reputation for animal testing has provoked a negative reaction from many. In February, Cambridge City Council approved the pharmaceutical company's application to build an animal-testing laboratory in Cambridge despite strong opposition from students and residents. Cambridge against AstraZeneca Planning (CAP) continue to campaign for the plans to be abandoned, with a petition on change.org nearing 7,000 signatures.

Rachel Mathai, spokesperson for the CAP campaign said of the new partnership: "We are so sorry to hear this – AstraZeneca and Cambridge University can only be described as partners in crime – together they will continue to hinder progress and with their inhumane and inaccurate experiments on animals.”

This view has been echoed by many students – including those of the Cambridge University Vegan Society who commented that ''Cambridge University already kills over 165,000 animals every year in its own laboratories, and any association with AstraZeneca is a step in the wrong direction. Cambridge has a responsibility to set an example to all institutions and to its students that animal testing is out-dated and shouldn't be tolerated when so many alternatives are now available.''

However, a first-year studying Natural Sciences with Biology had a more positive reaction, saying that ''not only will the partnership benefit both parties, but with collaboration with other companies and scientific bases in the area, there is the opportunity for medical advancements which will end up benefitting the general public, ie you and me.'' 

In response to the statements from CAP, this student maintained that ''although animal testing may be deemed cruel, it is often the only way and is certainly the most effective way to determine how a drug is going to affect a similar living system. I’m sure people arguing against animal testing would not be so happy when they have an unpredicted adverse reaction to their non-animal tested drug.''