ImmuPharma has been boosted by the news that the USA’s Cephalon has signed an exclusive worldwide licence deal for its experimental lupus treatment Lupuzor.

Under the terms of the agreement, Cephalon will pay ImmuPharma a $15 million upfront payment. If ongoing Phase IIb studies of Lupuzor in Europe and Latin America prove successful and the US firm exercises its option, ImmuPharma could receive regulatory milestones and royalties of up to $500 million.

Cephalon will assume all expenses for Phase III studies and subsequent commercialisation of the product, which ImmuPharma says is a first-in-class immune-modulating treatment that modulates a specific subset of CD4 T cells “which has been shown to play a critical role in the physiopathology of lupus”. It has been estimated that 1.5 million Americans have a form of lupus, 90% of whom are women, and the autoimmune disease is two to three times more prevalent among people of colour.

Cephalon chief executive Frank Baldino said the firm is “excited about entering another specialty market”, noting that “our current cash position has created the opportunity to make this type of deal”. His counterpart at ImmuPharma, Dimitri Dimitriou, said that the agreement “represents an important landmark for the company and secures the future for our most advanced asset”.

He added that “we have appreciated the positive chemistry between Cephalon and ourselves and believe we would work well together". Investors seem to think this will be the case and ImmuPharma’s shares shot up 35% as the deal was announced and is now trading around the £0.61 mark.

ImmuPharma, which has research operations in France and Switzerland, is focusing cancer, moderate to severe pain experienced by cancer sufferers and post-operative patients, MRSA and other hospital-acquired resistant infections, plus inflammation.