Immunomedics of the USA has entered into a licensing deal with Nycomed which will see the Switzerland-headquartered firm develop its investigational antibody veltuzumab for non-cancer indications.

Under the terms of the deal, Immunomedics will receive a non-refundable initial cash payment of $40 million, subject to regulatory approval, and could receive milestones of up to $580 million and “escalating double-digit royalties on sales of veltuzumab”. Nycomed will be responsible for all costs associated with the development, manufacturing and commercialisation of veltuzumab in subcutaneous formulation for all non-cancer indications.

The Zurich-based group said that initially it will develop veltuzumab as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, noting that anti-CD20 antibodies “are considered to be one of the strongest growing segments within the RA market”. They also offer “additional market potential by extending into other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases”.

The agreement also provides Immunomedics with an option to co-promote veltuzumab for immune thrombocytopenic purpura, which is treated by the same physicians (ie haematologists and oncologists) that treat blood cancers such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. If Immunomedics exercises its option, it will have sole responsibility for all sales calls for ITP in the USA, with profits shared between the two companies, though not equally.

Hakan Bjorklund, Nycomed's chief executive, said that the alliance is a significant step for his firm as it strengthens its clinical pipeline. He added that veltuzumab “offers an excellent strategic fit with Nycomed's other programmes in the field of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases''.

His counterpart at Immunomedics, Cynthia Sullivan, said she was confident Nycomed will “vigorously develop the full potential of veltuzumab” in non-cancer areas. She added that the option to co-promote the ITP indication is important as “this presents us with an opportunity to begin to build a haematology-oncology sales force, if we deem it to be advisable in the future''.

The deal went down well with investors in the US firm and Immunomedics’ shares ended the day up 16.8% to $2.57.