UK drug giant GlaxoSmithKline has hooked up with privately-owned Anglo-German group Cellzome for a second time, in a deal potentially worth more than 500 million euros to the latter firm.

GSK has shelled out an initial 33 million euros for exclusive access to Cellzome’s proprietary Episphere technology, which is designed to discover novel drugs directed against targets involved in the regulation of epigenetics and immunoinflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

According to Cellzome, epigenetics – the study of changes in gene expression caused by factors other than alterations to the underlying DNA sequence - is an emerging field of research, which plays a key role in controlling immune cell differentiation and inflammatory gene expression during an excessive inflammatory response.

Both groups plan to work together with the technology to identify selective small-molecule drug candidates against targets from four different epigenetic target classes. After the candidates have been picked, however, GSK will take over responsibility for their preclinical and clinical development and commercialisation.

In addition to the up-front fee, Cellzome also stands to receive milestone payments and tiered royalties for each programme, which could collectively reach more than 475 million euros if all are developed successfully, adding a significant revenue stream to the firm’s books.

“We are delighted to form another major alliance with GSK, using our leading technology and people to find transformative medicines in this exciting field of biology,” commented Tim Edwards, Chief Executive Officer of Cellzome. “Combining forces with GSK will accelerate the development of new anti-inflammatory drugs for the benefit of patients”, he said.

This is the second time the groups have hooked up, forming an alliance to discover, develop and market kinase-targeted therapeutics to treat inflammatory disease back in 2008 in a deal which could net Cellzome £840 million.