Merck & Co is linking up with Theravance to develop treatments that target hypertension and heart failure.

In exchange for granting the US giant a worldwide, exclusive license to its therapeutic candidates, Theravance will receive $5 million upfront, funding for research, and be eligible for milestone payments up to $148 million for the first indication. The firm would also be in line for royalties on any products derived from the collaboration.

Mathai Mammen, head of research and early clinical development at Theravance, said that "despite years of medical advances, there remain significant unmet medical needs in the management of cardiovascular disease," He added that over the last several years, the company, which is best-known for its respiratory pact with GlaxoSmithKline, "has gained significant insights into the design of novel molecules directed towards certain cardiovascular targets".

The Merck deal comes a couple of weeks after Theravance entered into a licensing arrangement for its gastroparesis drug velusetrag with Italy's Alfa Wassermann.

Under the agreement, the companies will collaborate in a two-part Phase II programme to test velusetrag in patients with gastroparesis and if all goes well, the Bologna-based group will the rights to the 5-HT4 agonist in the European Union, Russia, China, Mexico and certain other countries.

Alfa Wassermann is paying a $10 million fee and if it exercises its option, Theravance may bank up to $53.5 million in development, regulatory and sales milestone payments, plus royalties ranging from the low teens to 20%.