Roche bets $555M on an Indian biotech's immuno-oncology drug

Roche ($RHHBY) inked a deal worth up to $555 million to work with India's Curadev Pharma on cancer treatments that use the body's immune system to combat tumors, expanding its trove of assets in one of the industry's hottest fields.

The partnership covers early-stage treatments that target the enzymes IDO1 and TDO, pathways tumors use to hide from T cells. By inhibiting IDO1 and TDO at the same time, Curadev hopes to unblind the immune system and prevent tumors from escaping its defenses. The biotech's lead compound is a small-molecule treatment, and the company believes it has potential both as a standalone treatment and in combination with other immunotherapies.

That's where Roche comes in. Under the deal, the Swiss drugmaker will pay $25 million up front and promise up to $530 million tied to milestones to get its hands on Curadev's top prospect, now in preclinical development. In addition, the two companies have forged an R&D deal under which Roche's scientists will use Curadev's platform to ferret out new treatments targeting IDO and TDO, and the Indian company is eligible for undisclosed payouts tied to future success.

The deal adds another potential weapon in Roche's growing arsenal of cancer immunotherapies, which includes more than 20 in-development candidates, according to the company. Leading the way is MPDL3280A, a breakthrough-designated checkpoint inhibitor in Phase III trials for a wide range of cancers. Much of the enthusiasm around treatments like MPDL3280A comes from their potential to work in tandem with complementary agents, and, with that in mind, Roche has kept an open door to partnerships in hopes of discovering a few winning combinations.

The Curadev agreement is Roche's second big bet on IDO and TDO over the past year, coming on the heels of an October pact with NewLink Genetics ($NLNK) in which the company's Genentech unit agreed to pay $150 million up front and more than $1 billion in potential milestones to collaborate on an early-stage treatment called NLG919.

For Curadev, founded in 2010, the Roche deal is a major affirmation of the company's efforts in R&D, Chief Scientific Officer Arjun Surya said. Beyond its lead asset, the company is working on a standalone IDO inhibitor for breast cancer, a kinase-targeting therapy for blood cancers and a host of early-stage assets.

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