Eli Lilly and BioNTech AG have signed a research pact to discover novel cancer immunotherapies, seeking to use the body's own immune system to attack cancer cells and create possible new treatment options.

The companies plan to work together to identify and validate new tumour targets and their corresponding T cell receptors (TCRs) in one or more types of cancer, which may then be engineered and developed into “potent and selective” therapies.

The German biotech will bank a $30 million signing fee, but stands to receive an extra $300 million for each potential new medicine in development, regulatory and commercial milestones.

Lilly has also agreed to make a $30 million equity investment in BioNTech’s subsidiary Cell & Gene Therapies GmbH, which specialises in TCR and chimeric antigen receptor immunotherapies, but further terms were kept under wraps.