AstraZeneca has hooked up with US group Pieris Pharmaceuticals to develop novel inhaled medicines for respiratory diseases in a deal potentially worth $2.1 billion.

The strategic collaboration will leverage Pieris’ Anticalin platform, which generates engineered proteins able to mimic antibodies but have the advantage of being smaller and thus potentially deliverable directly to the lung.

Under the collaboration, Pieris will be responsible for advancing its preclinical lead candidate PRS-060 - an Anticalin against interleukin-4 receptor alpha (IL-4Ra) with potential in asthma - into Phase I clinical trials in 2017.

AstraZeneca will fund all clinical development and subsequent commercialisation programmes and Pieris has the option of co-development and co-commercialisation in the US from Phase IIa onwards.

The parties will also work together on progressing four additional novel Anticalins against undisclosed targets for respiratory diseases with Pieris having the option to co-develop and co-commercialise in the US two of these programmes.

On the financial side, AZ will make an upfront and near term milestone payments to Pieris of $57.5 million - $45 million USD of upfront payments and $12.5 million for the initiation of the PRS-060 Phase I trial, but the company could bag as much as $2.1 billion from development milestones and certain commercial payments, as well as tiered royalties on sales of any products marketed by AZ.

Commenting on the deal, AZ’ Mene Pangalos, executive vice president, Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech Unit and Business Development, said it “adds an important new modality to our respiratory portfolio and builds on our scientific expertise in inhaled formulation technologies.”

From the other side, Stephen Yoder, president and chief executive of Pieris, said: “We recognise AstraZeneca’s unparalleled expertise in the development of inhaled drugs, which will maximise the potential of PRS-060 and other inhaled Anticalin molecules to become valuable assets for both companies.”