Molecular Partners and Roche

Company: Molecular Partners
Partner: Roche ($RHHBY)
Technology: Protein delivery for cancer
Amount: $60 million up front, up to $1 billion-plus overall

The scoop: Switzerland's Molecular Partners attracted the interest of biotech giant Roche with its novel variation on antibody-drug conjugates, which themselves have generated substantial buzz for the past few years. Molecular Partners' version takes a different tack to deliver cancer drugs--using a protein instead of an antibody--one which Roche hopes will outdo the current generation of antibody drugs in the clinic. For that, Roche was willing to throw down up to $1 billion in future milestones and $60 million up front.

DARPin delivery tech--Courtesy of Molecular Partners

Molecular Partners uses its own technology, which it calls Designed Ankyrin Repeat Proteins, or DARPins, to deliver drugs. Next to antibodies, the company says, these repeat proteins are "the most prominent class of binding proteins in nature," using a single structural motif stacked together into a scaffold that can bind to a drug and deliver it to the site of a tumor. The company claims these small proteins are better than antibodies at binding to different epitopes.

It's the second billion-dollar-plus deal for Molecular Partners in as many years. In 2012, Allergan ($AGN) signed on to the company, offering $1.5 billion in an R&D development deal to deliver the age-related macular degeneration drug MPO260 with Molecular's DARPins. This built upon a $420 million deal the two already had in place.

For Roche, with a continued focus on oncology at its early development arm pRED, the deal was part of a multibillion-dollar effort to overhaul its pipeline and add promising new technology programs. Sophie Kornowski-Bonnet, head of Roche partnering, told FierceBiotech in the beginning of 2014, "If good science exists outside, we should bring it in."

For more:
Roche teams with Molecular Partners on armed proteins in $1B-plus deal
Armed-antibody successes inspire a burst of new building projects, industry deals
Allergan adds $1.5B R&D pact as it builds ophthalmology pipeline

Molecular Partners and Roche
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