Blueprint Medicines is collaborating with Roche on the discovery, development and commercialisation of up to five targeted cancer immunotherapies, in a deal potentially worth more than $1 billion.

The alliance will focus on small molecule therapeutics targeting kinases believed to control numerous aspects of the immune response, thus presenting an opportunity for potentially innovative approaches to boost the immune system's ability to recognise and kill tumour cells. 

To date, most cancer immunotherapies have focused on antibodies or combinations with existing approved therapies and have not yet targeted immunokinases with small molecules. This collaboration seeks to develop new mechanisms of modulating the tumour immune response by targeting immunokinases with the goal of enhancing response rates and treatment scope, the firms note.

Under the terms of the deal, Blueprint will receive an upfront cash payment of $45 million and is eligible for an additional $965 million in contingent option fees and payments related to specified research, preclinical, clinical, regulatory and sales-based milestones across all five potential programmes. 

Of the total contingent payments, up to around $215 million are for option fees and milestone payments for research, preclinical and clinical development events prior to licensing across all five potential programmes. In addition, the agreement provides for specified royalties and cost sharing.

Roche's rights are structured as an option, triggered upon achievement of Phase I proof-of-concept, for an exclusive license to each drug candidate developed under the collaboration. Blueprint will lead preclinical research and development through Phase I proof of concept for all five programmes and retain US commercial rights for two. 

If Roche exercises an option for a programme, the Swiss drugs giant will be responsible for subsequent global development through registrational clinical trials.

"We believe Blueprint Medicines' proprietary drug discovery platform and expertise in immunokinases, combined with our proven ability to move quickly through drug discovery, is a perfect complement to Roche's expertise with cancer immunotherapy biology and in developing and commercialising innovative therapies," said Blueprint’s chief executive Jeff Albers.