Johnson & Johnson has signed a cancer antibody pact with Aveo Pharmaceuticals that could be worth $555 million to the latter.

The deal covers a license agreement for the worldwide development and commercialisation of Aveo’s internally-discovered antibodies targeting the RON receptor. The firms note that the RON pathway is believed to be involved in "several aspects of cancer development including regulation of tumor growth, survival and metastasis and bone disruption".

RON, or MST1R, receptor tyrosine kinase is a member of the c-MET RTK family and over-expression of RON has been observed in multiple solid tumour types including breast, colorectal, non-small cell lung, glioblastoma multiforme, prostate, pancreatic, ovarian and bladder cancers.

In financial terms, Aveo is getting $15 million upfront, the first half in cash and the other $7.5 million will come through the sale of stock to J&J.  The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm is also eligible to receive up to $540 million in milestone payments, plus tiered, double-digit royalties.

Elan Ezickson, Aveo's chief business officer, said the deal "highlights the broad potential of our unique monoclonal antibody R&D capabilities". He added that it further supports the firm's strategy to "maximise our proprietary cancer biology platform to build a sustainable cancer therapeutics company".

These are interesting times for Aveo, whose lead product candidate tivozanib is currently being investigated in a Phase III trial comparing the drug with Bayer's Nexavar (sorafenib) in patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma. It is parnered with Japanese firms Astellas and Kyowa Hakko Kirin.

Further down the line is ficlatuzumab, an anti-HGF/c-MET pathway antibody that is currently in Phase II.