Roche has claimed another section of the immuno-oncology pipeline after agreeing a collaboration with Blueprint Medicines which could be worth $1bn-plus.
The agreement will see the two companies collaborate on the development of up to five small-molecule drugs targeting kinases that are thought to be potential targets for cancer immunotherapies.
Blueprint stands to receive $45m upfront along with $965m in possible option fees and milestone payments - plus royalties - if the five candidates progress through development and onto the market.
Cambridge-Massachusetts-based Blueprint focuses its research on 'immunokinases' - intracellular enzymes that help regulate the immune response - and its scientific team includes a number of researchers who worked on the development of Novartis' big-selling kinase inhibitor Gleevec/Glivec (imatinib), a leukaemia therapy.
The company - which went public last year raising $147m - says it is taking a new approach to cancer immunotherapy, which could yield orally-active drugs for cancers driven by abnormal kinase activation.
"Most cancer immunotherapies have focused on antibodies or combinations with existing approved therapies and have not yet targeted immunokinases with small molecules," it said in a statement. The identity of the targets covered by the agreement with Roche has not been disclosed.
Under the terms of the agreement, Roche has the option to license drugs after phase I proof-of-concept studies, with Blueprint retaining US commercialisation rights to two of the compounds if desired. The two companies will share funding for early-stage development and Blueprint will contribute to development costs for each product for which it holds US rights.
Blueprint's lead in-house candidate - BLU-285 - inhibits immunokinases, which are considered important targets in gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST) and a rare form of cancer known as advanced systemic mastocytosis. The drug is in a phase I trial in GIST with a second trial in ASM planned.
A second candidate called BLU-554 is in preclinical development and is due to start clinical testing in hepatocellular carcinoma - a form of liver cancer - later this year.
Roche's immuno-oncology portfolio is currently headed by anti-PDL1 antibody atezolizumab (MPDL3280A), which is under priority review at the FDA as a treatment for advanced bladder cancer.