Roche has licensed an early-stage immune checkpoint inhibitor from NewLink Genetics Corp in a deal that could net the US biotech over $1 billion.

The treatment in question is NLG919, an IDO pathway inhibitor and another class of treatment akin to the recently-developed antibodies targeting CTLA-4, PD-1, and PD-L1 “that represent potential breakthrough approaches to cancer therapy”, NewLink says. The IDO pathway regulates immune response by suppressing T-cell activation which enables local tumour immune escape”.

NewLink has also discovered novel tryptophan-2,3-dioxygenase (TDO) specific inhibitors that are potential anti-cancer compounds which could function individually or in combination with IDO inhibition. These are also covered by the Roche pact.

The Swiss major is putting down $150 million upfront and NewLink will be eligible to receive in excess of $1 billion in milestones as well as escalating double-digit royalties. Roche’s Genentech unit will fund future R&D manufacturing and commercialisation costs and NewLink will retain the option for co-promotion in the USA for NLG919 and potential IDO/TDO compounds.

James Sabry, head of Genentech Partnering, said “we are intrigued by the biology of the IDO and TDO compounds and are very interested in the potential to combine them with Genentech's portfolio of novel therapies".