Roche has signed a deal with the USA's Afraxis to develop compounds for an undisclosed novel target.

Under the terms of the agreement, Roche's Genentech unit will have exclusive, worldwide rights to develop and market Afraxis’ proprietary compounds. The financial breakdown of the deal has not been disclosed but the San Diego-based biotech says it is eligible to receive upfront, R&D and commercialisation milestone payments, together totalling up to $187.5 million. Full financial terms have not been disclosed.

Afraxis, which was founded in 2007 with the financial backing of Avalon Ventures, focuses on the central nervous system, including schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, fragile X syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. Its lead programme targets PAK, which the firm notes is "a key regulator of dendritic spine biology that is intended to modify the disease mechanism itself - providing not a cure, but a treatment designed to produce beneficial change at both the cellular, functional and behavioural levels".

Jay Lichter, Afraxis chief executive and managing partner at Avalon said that the venture firm's approach to "investing in companies at the earliest stages and staying actively involved in company management is proving to be a successful strategy for life science". Another Avalon-backed, San Diego-based company - Zacharon Pharmaceuticals - was bought by BioMarin earlier this month for $10 million upfront, plus potential additional payments for clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones.

In June last year, Roche linked up with the USA's Seaside Therapeutics to develop treatments for autism spectrum disorders and fragile X syndrome.