GlaxoSmithKline has teamed up with Cellzome to develop a new generation of drugs for inflammatory diseases in a deal that could net the privately-owned Anglo-German firm £840 million.

Under the terms of the agreement, Cellzome will receive an upfront payment of £14.4 million in cash and equity and up to £118 million per programme in potential development, regulatory and commercial milestones. In return, GSK has exclusive options to license drug candidates from Cellzome's kinase programmes directed against four identified (and three additional) targets identified using the latter’s Kinobeads technology to discover novel small molecule inhibitors of these targets.

Upon Cellzome's achievement of proof-of-concept for a product candidate for a particular kinase target, GSK would then assume full responsibility for further clinical development and commercialisation. Cellzome will also be eligible to receive up to double-digit royalties on sales of any products resulting from the alliance.

The two companies noted that kinases are “key molecular switches in cellular signalling events with a central role in many inflammatory responses” and selective inhibitors offer a different approach to treating diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Jose Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, head of the Immuno-Inflammation Centre of Excellence for Drug Discovery at GSK said the firm is excited to be working with Cellzome “to discover and develop improved approaches to existing biologic therapies which cannot access intracellular signalling mechanisms”. He added that the Kinobeads technology “will provide a distinct advantage because it uses native kinases directly isolated from human cells and tissues”.

This is very much a long-term project but Cellzome, which employs about 90 people at its two subsidiaries in Cambridge and Heidelberg, is unsurprisingly delighted about the deal. Chief executive Tim Edwards said that the alliance “is a significant endorsement” of the Kinobeads technology and is “a major event in Cellzome's development, giving us the opportunity to broaden our pipeline and progress several kinase programmes towards the clinic”.

In addition to the GSK collaboration, Cellzome has an alliance with Johnson & Johnson focused on the discovery of medicines for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.