Although Roche and Genentech still seem some distance away from agreeing a full-blown merger, the two companies are joining forces to work with Switzerland’s GlycArt to develop and commercialise one of the latter’s oncology agents.

GlycArt, a company bought by Roche in 2005, will collaborate with the two other firms to develop GA101, a humanised anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody. The drug is currently in Phase I/II trials for CD20-positive B-cell malignancies, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Under the terms of the deal, the three companies will share certain development costs and it was noted that Genentech, which will receive commercialisation rights in the USA, will record $105 million in R&D expenses in the third quarter.

Hal Barron, Genentech’s chief medical officer, said that the collaboration on the GA101 molecule “complements our existing research programme” and that through the programme, “we may have the potential to offer a new option to treat patients with haematological malignancies”. William Burns, chief executive of Roche Pharmaceuticals, added that “the exciting work in antibody engineering carried out by our scientists at GlycArt can now be taken to the next stage in developing clinically differentiated treatments”.

As for Roche’s bid to buy the 44% stake in Genentech it does not already own, the Basel-based group says the credit crisis gripping the world is not going to prevent it from financing the proposed $89 per share takeover bid, which valued the deal at $43.7 billion but was turned down. However, the strengthening of the dollar against the Swiss franc means that the original $89 offer would effectively now cost Roche $96 per share, according to a research note issued by Citi analysts.