Shares in NicOx have soared for the second time in a week after the French biotech bought a stake in the UK's Altacor, with an option to buy the privately-held ophthalmology company outright.

The Sophia Antipolis-based firm is paying £2 million for an 11.8% holding in Altacor, with the option (which expires at the end of May) of buying the entire company for another £9 million in cash, shares or a combination of the two. If certain milestones are reached, NiCox could pay out an extra £8.5 million and investors seem very happy with the deal; its shares rose over 35% to close at 4.22 euros.

Altacor currently sells hyaluronic acid-based dry eye products under the Clinitas name which had sales of £660,000 in 2011 "and are growing rapidly". Its pipeline is headed by ALT-005, which is being developed as a pre-operative antiseptic solution specifically for ophthalmic use and is in a Phase III trial in the USA.

The Altacor link-up comes days after NiCox shares jumped on its announcement, along with partner Bausch + Lomb, of positive topline results from a mid-stage study of their investigational glaucoma drug BOL_303259_X, a nitric oxide-donating prostaglandin F2_alpha analogue.

NicOx chief executive Michele Garufi said the Altacor deal is "the first step in executing our strategy to become an international ophthalmology company". He added that the Cambridge-based firm brings "marketed products, international leading partners and an innovative late-stage pipeline", as well as "an established infrastructure supporting sales in the UK and Ireland as a base for the future launch of additional products".

The progress being made with the B + L glaucoma drug has "significantly strengthened our potential position in the field of ophthalmology", Mr Garufi claimed, adding that NiCox is looking at other acquisitions and in-licensing opportunities.