An antibody deal with ex-parent company Novo Nordisk has given ZymoGenetics a financial boost, days after the latter announced another round of job cuts.

Under the terms of the pact, Novo is in-licensing a fully-human anti-IL21 monoclonal antibody developed by ZymoGenetics, which is a pre-investigational new drug candidate for the treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Cashwise, Novo is making an upfront cash payment of $24 million and ZymoGenetics may receive further milestones of up to $157.5 million, including an $8.5 million payment at the start of Phase 1 studies, due to start next year.

Zymogenetics will also receive royalties and has a right to co-promote the IL-21 mAb in the USA if it contributes to Phase III development costs.

Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, Novo’s chief science officer, says the firm is currently building a pipeline of products to treat autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease. As such, “it was important for us to secure the worldwide rights to the IL-21 mAb project as well as worldwide patent rights to IL-21 antibodies”.

ZymoGenetics chief executive Douglas Williams said that while the IL-21 mAb “is an exciting molecule, we believe for our company that other development programmes have a better return on investment profile”. He added that “we have the option to increase our participation in commercialisation of the product, retaining long-term upside potential for our shareholders”.

The cash boost is very welcome for ZymoGenetics which last week announced that it will discontinue all ongoing immunology discovery research programmes. This means reducing its workforce by 15%, or 52 jobs, in addition to the 160-plus posts cut when the firm pulled out of cancer research.

ZymoGenetics says the move will allow it to focus on building the market for its only approved product, Recothrom (recombinant human thrombin) for surgical bleeding. The job cuts will result in annual expense savings of $8-$10 million, in addition to the estimated $30 million in savings generated by the April restructuring.