Roche is splashing out $175 million in cash to acquire the worldwide rights to InterMune's experimental hepatitis C treatment danoprevir.

The deal on danoprevir, which is in Phase II, effectively ends a 2006 collaboration between the two companies, though InterMune says it is working with the Swiss major and "actively exploring ways to continue their ongoing work together on other HCV research programmes". InterMune chief executive Dan Welch said that the decision was taken after conducting "a careful review of our strategy and financial position".

Specifically the US biotech is planning to focus on its idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis treatment, pirfenidone. Mr Welch said the transaction "provides a very substantial non-dilutive cash infusion that allows us to continue to independently and aggressively pursue the registration and commercialisation of pirfenidone in the USA and the European Union".

Selling up "eliminates our obligation to make significant ongoing investments" related to danoprevir, he added. With the money from Roche, InterMune will have around $290 million in cash at the end of the year.

As such, Mr Welch concluded, "we are now in a very strong financial position that provides us with the resources and flexibility to maximise the value of pirfenidone, our largest and nearest-term value creation opportunity". In March, an advisory committee to the US Food and Drug Administration voted 9-3 in favour of the approval of the drug, known as Esbriet, to reduce decline in lung function.

However, in May, the agency then issued a complete response letter requesting an additional clinical trial to support the efficacy of pirfenidone in IPF. In Europe, InterMune says a review of the drug is proceeding as planned and it expects some news in the first half of 2011.