AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) is linking up with Cambridge Antibody Technology (NASDAQ:CATG) in a bid to tap the biotech's prowess in the promising area of monoclonal antibodies. While the agreement looks like a good move for both firms, Cambridge Antibody now will have the tricky task of serving the interests of rival masters.

AstraZeneca and Cambridge Antibody will launch at least 25 discovery programs to explore the utility of human monoclonal antibodies in treating inflammatory disorders. In connection with the deal, AstraZeneca agreed to pay $140 million to buy a 19.9% stake in Cambridge Antibody, providing the latter with some welcome capital. At the same time, the purchase will make AstraZeneca a major Cambridge Antibody shareholder along with Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ), which owns 11.3% of the firm as part of a separate collaboration.

Cambridge Antibody clearly has an established reputation when it comes to monoclonal antibodies. Besides alliances with AstraZeneca and Genzyme, the biotech outfit has licensing deals with several other companies. Cambridge Antibody's claim to fame, though, is that it helped develop Abbott Laboratories' (NYSE:ABT) successful rheumatoid arthritis treatment Humira. Unfortunately, the relationship with Abbott has gone sour because the biotech outfit does not feel it is receiving its due in royalties. The firms are now seeking to resolve their dispute in court.

If it can avoid such messy conflicts, AstraZeneca seems likely to benefit from the new partnership. The research effort's $175 million price tag will be split between the two companies, meaning that $87.5 million of AstraZeneca's investment will go right back into the joint project. More importantly, the agreement allows the pharma outfit to leverage Cambridge Antibody's expertise in one of the most promising areas of biopharmaceuticals. The biotech company plans to commit 100 to 150 scientists per year to the program.

Still, Cambridge Antibody's spat with Abbott shows how alliances can go wrong. With Cambridge Antibody now answering to both AstraZeneca and Genzyme, problems may be hard to avoid.

Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer living in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned here.