Bristol-Myers Squibb is making a big upfront payment to Innate Pharma to get access to the French biotech's early-stage cancer antibody.

The drug in question is IPH2102, is a fully human monoclonal antibody blocking interaction between killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) on natural killer (NK) cells with their ligands. By blocking these receptors, it facilitates activation of NK cells, and, potentially, destruction of tumour cells by the latter.

It is currently being tested in a Phase I trial in cancer patients and Innate will continue to develop the drug in acute myeloid leukaemia  through to the end of Phase II. The deal covers all potential indications for IPH2102, plus related compounds blocking KIR receptors.

In exchange for getting the worldwide rights, B-MS will pay an upfront fee of $35 million and additional payments of up to $430 million, as well as pre-specified tiered double-digit royalty payments.

This is clearly big news for Innate and chief executive Herve Brailly noted that it is "the largest biotech licensing deal ever signed in France". He added that linking up with B-MS gives the firm "a strong validation of the key concepts of its science”.

B-MS research chief Francis Cuss said Innate "has developed a deep understanding of the immune system", adding that "we have the opportunity to develop IPH2102, a potential first-in-class biologic that may be able to harness a patient’s immune system in the fight against cancer".

Mike Seeley, head of the US major's operations across the Channel, said the deal "highlights our commitment to France, the French biotech community and to immuno-oncology, an area in which B-MS has developed a robust pipeline", including the recently-approved melanoma drug Yervoy ipilimumab.