Roche has hit the acquisition trail again and is buying privately-owned UK biotechnology company Piramed in a deal worth $175 million.

The Swiss drugs giant says that the acquisition gives it access to therapeutics that Piramed, which was founded in 2003, is developing which target the PI3-kinase pathway. Preclinical studies have demonstrated the activity of PI3-K inhibitors in a broad range of tumours, notably breast and lung cancer, plus their potential importance in treating inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Piramed’s PI3-K-alpha oncology programme has a compound in Phase I which is currently being developed in collaboration with Genentech (a Roche subsidiary), while the previously unpartnered PI3-K-delta inflammatory project is at the preclinical stage.

Cashwise, Roche is paying out $160 million and will make a milestone payment of $15 million once Phase II trials of Piramed's cancer programme begin. The deal is expected to close by the end of the second quarter.

Piramed chief excutive Michael Moore told PharmaTimes World News that “the seeds of the deal” were sown when the Genentech collaboration was set up two-and-a-half years ago, and that interest in the Slough-based group extended to Roche. However, “that is only part of the story”, he added, as the progress made by the PI3-K inhibitor in early-stage trials has clearly impressed the Basel-headquartered group.

When asked why such a young firm had opted to sell rather than go it alone with its promising compounds, Mr Moore said that “there is no doubt there was a very real option to go ahead and raise fresh capital”. However, given the assets that Piramed has now created, it was becoming clear that “we needed to increase the band-width”, he told PharmaTimes World News and that would be best achieved with a big pharma firm, especially one with such expertise in oncology.

Salvatore D’Orsa, investment director of Merlin Biosciences, which has to date invested £10 million into the business and a board member of Piramed, said the sale “gives us all a better chance to see today’s breakthrough research turned into tomorrow’s life-saving pharmaceutical products”. He added that it “also confirms that innovative discovery companies can, over time, be developed into very attractive investment opportunities worth funding.”

As for the Swiss group, its pharmaceuticals chief executive William Burns said that “the integration of Piramed’s promising R&D reaffirms and further strengthens Roche’s leadership in oncology”.