Roche has signed an innovative deal which could see the Swiss major end up with treatments for loss of hearing.

The company has entered into an exclusive partnership with investment group Versant Ventures and small biotech Inception Sciences to create a drug discovery incubator. The latter, which is to be called Inception 3, will be based around a treatment for sensorineural hearing loss.

It is the most common type of permanent hearing loss and the collaboration will focus on creating therapies that target inner ear hair cell protection and regeneration in the cochlea. Under the terms of the agreement, Inception 3 will incorporate "an innovative technology platform from Stanford University coupled with excellence in drug discovery from the ex-Amira Pharmaceuticals team" which set up Inception Sciences.

Cashwise, Versant will provide equity financing and Roche will fund the research based on a series of milestones. The Basel-headquartered group will also have an exclusive option to acquire Inception 3 once the first compound is ready to be filed as an investigational new drug.__

Luca Santarelli, head of Roche Neuroscience, said that "due to significant advances in unraveling the biological basis of sensorineural hearing loss, we decided to build a significant external R&D effort in this area in partnership with world-class scientists, entrepreneurs and investors". Shafique Virani, head of neuroscience partnering at Roche, added that the deal structure "is unique in that it enables us to pursue exciting, emerging science and develop it in partnership with venture capital and pioneers in this field".

Mr Virani went on to say that "the collaboration construct further gives us the flexibility in externalising our R&D fixed cost base into an operationally nimble new company to achieve this".