AstraZeneca has signed a second licensing deal with Rigel Pharmaceuticals, this time covering a potential new treatment for chronic asthma.

The drug in question is R256, Rigel's inhaled Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor shown to inhibit IL-13 and IL-4 signaling. It is being investigated as a treatment for moderate to severe chronic asthma and in preclinical research has been shown to reduce airway inflammation and improve lung function.

Rigel will receive an upfront fee of $1 million with an additional $8.25 million in early milestone payments anticipated by the end of 2013. In total, the deal could be worth up to $100 million, plus tiered royalties.

AstraZeneca will be responsible for beginning first-in-human clinical studies for R256 and have exclusive rights to commercialise the drug around the world. Mene Pangalos, head of innovative medicines at AstraZeneca, said "there remains a need for more targeted therapies for moderate to severe chronic asthma".

This is the second licensing agreement between the firms who first linked up in February 2010 to develop fostamatinib, an oral spleen tyrosine kinase (Syk) inhibitor for rheumatoid arthritis. The Phase III programme for the potentially first-in-class drug enrolled its first patient in September 2010.