Another day, another deal for French drugmaker sanofi aventis, which has hooked up with US group Avila Therapeutics in a pact to discover and develop covalent drugs for cancers.

The Paris, France-headquartered group has set its sights on Avila’s expertise in designing and developing covalent drugs via its proprietary Avilomics platform, and has inked a deal with the group for an exclusive worldwide license to develop and commercialise candidates directed at six signalling proteins critical in tumour cells.

Covalent drugs form a much stronger and longer-lasting bond than the temporary ‘binding’ achieved by conventional drugs, and as such have the potential to completely silence disease-causing proteins. Using Avila’s Avilmoics platform, the groups hope to design and develop covalent drug candidates against targets that are difficult to approach with traditional pharmaceutical therapies, sanofi said, explaining its interest in the alliance.

As per the terms of the deal, which is potentially worth more than $900 million to Avila, the US group stands to receive up to $40 million in upfront and research support payments, as well as preclinical, clinical and regulatory milestone payments of up to $154 million per programme following US, European and Japanese product approval. In addition, Avila could also get staged royalties and commercial milestones on product sales for each of the programmes.

Also in the terms, Avila has the opportunity to keep hold of the rights to one of the six collaboration programmes following the close of the initial three-year deal term, but sanofi will get first dibs for negotiation should the firm want a partner for that particular candidate.

The deal marks a huge vote of confidence in Avila’s technology and, if any programmes are a success, should provide the group with a nice little revenue stream in future. For sanofi, the alliance signals yet another move to expand its oncology research and development activities. Also this week, the French drugmaker announced a worldwide R&D agreement with Merck KGaA to investigate new potential treatments for cancer.