GlaxoSmithKline has signed a deal with Chroma Therapeutics, which could be worth over $1 billion to the privately-owned UK biotechnology firm.

The deal will see the two firms develop macrophage-targeted compounds using Chroma’s esterase-sensitive motif technology, which adds amino acid esters to compounds with the aim of targeting the drugs to specific cells “in the inflammatory disease process”. Chroma will undertake four programmes to identify small molecule therapeutics for inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.

As for the financial terms, the Oxford-based company will receive “a significant upfront cash payment”. GSK will also make an undisclosed investment as part of Chroma’s latest equity financing which has raised £15 million.

Chroma is eligible to receive milestones, option fees and tiered royalties based on compounds arising from the collaboration and could receive in excess of $1 billion in the event that all four programmes are successful. For each of those programmes, it will have responsibility for R&D activities through completion of proof of concept studies and after that GSK may elect to obtain an exclusive, worldwide licence to
product candidates.

This agreement marks the drug giant’s “continued efforts to access the best science and technology platforms worldwide" said Shelagh Wilson, head of GSK’s European Centre of Excellence for External Drug Discovery. She added that "we believe Chroma's ESM platform has tremendous potential”.

Ian Nicholson, Chroma’s chief executive, was understandably delighted, saying that the collaboration “provides strong validation of our technology platform”. The firm is backed by a number of leading specialist investors, including Abingworth, Essex Woodlands, Gilde, Nomura Phase4 and The Wellcome Trust.