Sanofi-Aventis has signed another research alliance, this time to develop cancer drugs discovered by the USA’s Ascenta Therapeutics.

The deal involves a number of compounds that could restore tumour cell apoptosis and inhibit the p53-HDM2 protein-protein interaction. This could potentially lead to reactivation of p53 tumour suppressor functions, Sanofi says, “therefore enhancing current cancer treatments”.

Two of the compounds, MI-773 and MI-519-64, are expected to enter preclinical development later this year. Ascenta in-licensed these p53-HDM2 inhibitors from the University of Michigan and both the Pennsylvania-headquartered firm and Sanofi will provide funding for the ongoing research at the university.

Cashwise, Ascenta will get an undisclosed upfront fee and be eligible for development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments that could reach $398 million. It will also get tiered royalties.

Debasish Roychowdhury, head of global oncology at Sanofi, said the new partnership illustrates the firm’s commitment “to develop innovative targeted therapies” for cancer. He added that the inhibition of protein-protein interaction “is always a challenge in discovery, and the finding of potent and selective compounds could offer an attractive new therapeutic approach for cancer patients”.