The UK’s Argenta Discovery has signed a deal with drugs giant AstraZeneca which could net the Harlow-based respiratory drug discovery and development company as much as $500 million.

Under the terms of the agreement, Argenta is getting $21 million in upfront payments plus further committed research funding and pre-clinical milestones as part of the alliance which is hoping to identify improved bronchodilators to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. AstraZeneca will be responsible for the development and worldwide commercialisation of products arising out of the collaboration and Argenta is eligible for further development, regulatory and sales milestones, taking the total deal value to around $500 million, excluding royalties.

A team of scientists from the two companies will collaborate in order to identify long-acting muscarinic (M3) antagonists and dual acting muscarinic antagonist-beta-2 agonist drugs, to be developed as once-daily, inhaled mono or combination therapies.

Argenta chief executive Christopher Ashton said the alliance is “a major transitional deal” for the firm “and marks our emergence as a key player in the field of respiratory medicine.” He added that the way the partnership has been structured “creates a real ‘win-win' scenario,” since the molecules coming out of this collaboration should “supersede the benefits of existing bronchodilator therapies with greater duration of action and a more favourable side effect profile.” He concluded by saying that the first candidate from the collaboration should enter the clinic in 2008.