Exelixis of the USA and Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim have signed an agreement which will see the firms colloborate to discover, develop and commercialise autoimmune disease therapies.

The collaboration will focus on the discovery of sphingosine-1-phosphate type 1 (S1P1) receptor agonists which Exelixis says have shown “encouraging activity in preclinical models of transplant rejection and autoimmune disease”. S1P1 agonists have also shown clinical benefit in ongoing trials of multiple sclerosis patients.

Under the terms of the agreement, Exelixis will receive a $15 million upfront payment and in addition is eligible to get up to $339 million in milestone payments. The companies will share discovery activities and Boehringer will have sole responsibility “for all subsequent pre-clinical, clinical, regulatory, commercial and manufacturing activities”.

Boehringer chairman Andreas Barner said the deal is a strategic fit to the company’s immunology research projects for the potential treatment of autoimmune diseases. Exelixis chief executive George Scangos added that the firms’ S1P1 agonist programme has identified multiple analogues with potent in vivo activity. With this collaboration, “we have the opportunity to transition the programme to a partner with a track record of success in developing and commercialising autoimmune disease therapies while strengthening our financial position," he concluded.

News of the deal came as Exelixis, which has alliances with Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech, Wyeth and Daiichi-Sankyo, announced its first-quarter financials. Net loss narrowed 12.3% to $36.2 million, due to decreased expenses, while revenues slipped 9.3% to $25.3 million.