Roche has signed up to get access to the T cell receptor technology created by Immunocore, an oncology deal which could prove to be highly lucrative for the UK firm.

Specifically, the Swiss major's Genentech unit has entered into a research collaboration and licensing agreement to develop multiple novel cancer targets using Immunocore’s ImmTAC technology. The Oxford-headquartered biotech has created what it calls "a world-leading platform of bi-specific biological drugs", called ImmTACs.

The latter exploit the power of T cell receptors to recognise intracellular changes during cancer or viral infection, which sets them apart from traditional antibody-based therapies that can only recognise changes on the surface of cells. This, Immunocore says, "provides, for the first time, the ability to develop extremely potent targeted therapies for cancers that are currently poorly served" and avoid damaging healthy cells.

Under the terms of the agreement, Immunocore will get an initiation fee of between $10-$20 million per programme and is eligible to receive in excess of $300 million in development and commercial milestones for each target programme "and significant tiered royalties". Chief executive James Noble said that "we are very pleased to have Genentech, a recognised leader in oncology, on board as our first major partner".

James Sabry, head of Genentech Partnering, said he believes Immunocore "is the leading company in T cell receptor biology and drug development and an excellent partner…in this area. We are delighted to have initiated this significant partnership with them".