Catalent to earn up to $618M under antibody-drug conjugate research alliance with Roche

Catalent ($CTLT) stands to earn up to $618 million in milestone payments under its research collaboration with Roche ($RHHBY), centered around the pharma contractor's SMARTag platform for the creation of antibody drug conjugates.

Catalent will receive $1 million upfront and also has the chance to earn royalties on net sales of any commercialized products.

Developed by Catalent's Redwood Bioscience subsidiary, SMARTag prevents systematic release of drug payloads by conjugating them to antibody-like protein molecules. Catalent says the platform "provides precise payload positioning, stable, site-specific conjugation and defined stoichiometry of drug-protein ratios," in a release.

Roche's move exemplifies growing interest in antibody-drug conjugates as a way of achieving targeted drug delivery. That's because researchers can create novel antibodies that are conjugated to drugs (or the payload) and are specific to a tumor marker or other desired location within the body.

Antibody-drug conjugates are most associated with oncology, although Roche did not specify which therapeutic areas it will focus on, saying only that it aims to "develop next-generation molecules coupling different therapeutic modalities" via non-exclusive use of the SMARTag platform.

"Roche is a pioneer and leader in biologics for oncology and beyond, and we look forward to working with the Roche team to support development of their next generation of medicines," said Catalent vice president Mike Riley in a statement. "Our goal is to combine our differentiated SMARTag technology with Roche's expertise to create new transformational treatments."

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