AstraZeneca will acquire exclusive global rights to develop, manufacture, and commercialize Heptares Therapeutics’ immuno-oncology candidate HTL-1071, and possibly other compounds designed to fight cancer by blocking the adenosine A2A receptor, the companies said today.

The deal could generate up to $510 million-plus for Heptares, and expands AstraZeneca’s presence in cancer immunotherapies. AstraZeneca said it will explore HTL-1071 and the other compounds in combination with its existing portfolio of immunotherapies, across a variety of cancers.

The Heptares collaboration is AstraZeneca’s second immuno-oncology partnership announced by the pharma in as many days. Yesterday, AstraZeneca said it entered into a Phase I/II trial collaboration to assess the safety and efficacy of its MedImmune subsidiary’s anti-PDL1 immune checkpoint inhibitor durvalumab (formerly MEDI4736) in combination with Mirati Therapeutics’ investigational spectrum-selective histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor mocetinostat. The value of that deal was not disclosed.

The pharma giant views oncology as a potential sixth “growth platform,” having committed to launching six new cancer treatments to market between 2013 and 2020. In November, AstraZeneca projected that oncology would generate its largest proportion of pipeline-driven revenue growth, with the potential to grow to a quarter of total company sales by 2023.

In releasing second-quarter results on July 30, AstraZeneca said it had six new molecular entities in pivotal Phase III studies or regulatory review—AZD9291 indicated for lung cancer; cediranib for ovarian cancer; selumetinib for lung cancer; tremelimumab for mesothelioma; durvalumab for lung cancer; and moxetumomab pasudotox for leukemia.

In its latest cancer deal, AstraZeneca agreed to pay Heptares $10 million upfront, plus additional “significant” near-term payments tied to achieving preclinical and/or clinical milestones. Heptares is also eligible for more than $500 million tied to successfully achieving development and commercialization milestones, plus up to double-digit tiered royalties on net sales.

HTL-1071 is an adenosine A2A receptor antagonist. By blocking A2A receptors, the companies reason, they can promote an anti-cancer response of T-cells within tumors, since stimulation of the receptors via adenosine has been found to stop T-cells within the immune system from proliferating, thus reducing their ability to destroy cancer cells.

“By combining the pioneering A2A receptor programme with the strength of AstraZeneca’s oncology portfolio, we hope to develop novel treatments with the potential to transform the lives of patients,” Susan Galbraith, vp, head of oncology in AstraZeneca’s Innovative Medicines and Early Development Unit, said in a statement.

Added Heptares CEO Malcolm Weir: “The A2A receptor programme at Heptares has been an outstanding example of our Structure Based Drug Design approach in action, resulting in a novel clinical candidate, HTL-1071, with a highly attractive profile.”

Heptares’ structure-based drug design technology is designed to enable the engineering of drugs targeting G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), consisting of some 375 receptors linked to a wide range of human diseases. Using the technology, Heptares has created a pipeline of compounds designed to treat Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia ADHD, migraine, addiction, metabolic disease, and other indications.

Heptares and AstraZeneca launched their first collaboration in 2011, a $190 million partnership ($6.25 million upfront) focused on developing small molecule candidates targeting specific GPCRs for central nervous system/pain, cardiovascular/metabolic and inflammatory disorders.

AstraZeneca, its MedImmune subsidiary and several other biopharma are partners with Heptares in pursuing small molecule and antibody discovery and development programs—including Merck & Co.’s Cubist subsidiary, MorphoSys, and Takeda Pharmaceutical.

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