Lilly has become the latest drug giant to sign an R&D pact with a biotech centred on creating drugs that boost the body's own ability to fight cancer.

Following in the footsteps of AstraZeneca, Genentech and Roche, Lilly has hooked into UK biotech Immuncore in the hope of utilising its ImmTAC technology to discover and develop T cell based cancer immunotherapies.

This technology engineers high-affinity T Cell receptors linked to an antibody fragment, anti-CD3, which can activate the immune system to kill targeted cancer cells while avoiding damage to healthy tissues, a holy grail of cancer treatment.

What is particularly interesting about Immunocore's technology is that it can generate therapeutics that target antigens inside the cancer cell, as opposed to just proteins on the cell's surface, thereby setting them aside from many other experimental immuno-oncology drugs in the R&D pipeline.

$15m per programme

Under the terms of the 'risk-sharing' deal, Immunocore will get an upfront fee of $15 million per program for the discovery of novel ImmTACs against jointly-selected cancer targets.

If Lilly then accepts a preclinical candidate package, the UK group will get a further $10 million opt-in fee enabling it to share further development, costs and profits. And if Immunocore does not exercise its option, it still stands to receive "potential future significant milestone and royalty payments".