Roche and Molecular Partners said today they entered into a potentially billion-dollar collaboration giving Roche rights to develop a new class of “several” cancer treatments that combine its toxic agents with Molecular Partners’ DARPin® biologics.

The deal could net Molecular Partners more than CHF 1 billion ($1.1 billion), most of it tied to development and sales milestones. Roche agreed to pay Molecular Partners CHF 55 million ($60.7 million) in up-front and initiation payments to launch the research collaboration and licensing agreement. Molecular Partners will also receive tiered royalties on any future product sales into the double-digit percentage range.

DARPins are non-antibody-based small proteins where a variable region has been engineered for target binding. Roche and Molecular Partners reason that DARPins are ideal targeting agents to deliver toxic agents to tumors to kill cancer cells based on their small size and high binding affinity, which enable them to hone in on and penetrate deep into solid tumors.

DARPins also have a higher selectivity for tumor cells compared to other biologics including antibody drug conjugates, based on their ability to bind to different epitopes than antibodies, and bind to multiple epitopes or targets in parallel at the same time, the companies say.

“We are excited about this collaboration as the DARPin platform is truly complementary to our internal capabilities in the large molecule space,” Sylke Poehling, Roche’s head of large molecule research, said in a statement. “In the field of drug conjugates, we have identified an excellent opportunity to combine our expertise with the leading company in non-antibody scaffold technology to develop transformative cancer medicines.”

Molecular Partners is focused on teaming up with biopharma giants to co-develop DARPin drugs in oncology as well as ophthalmology, inflammation, and other disease areas. To that end, Molecular Partners has established alliances with Allergan and Janssen and other pharmaceutical companies.

Previous articleTaking the Genome for a Test Drive
Next article$100M Fund to Boost Early-Stage NYC Biotechs