Busy Roche inks another immuno-oncology discovery pact, this time with Pieris

Roche has struck its second biotech discovery collaboration with a Boston-based biotech company in back-to-back cancer deals this week. This time the pharma giant ($RHHBY) is jumping on board Pieris Pharmaceuticals' Anticalin platform to find new cancer immunotherapy drug candidates, with Pieris ($PIRS) staying in charge during the preclinical exploration phase and Roche grabbing control of clinical development.

Aside from gaining a marquee industry name for its list of collaborators at a time Pieris has been working on making its mark in the popular field of immuno-oncology, the biotech also banks a $6.4 million upfront with a commitment of up to $409 million in milestones--a classic back-ended deal that leaves the real payoff further down the road when the potential of new drug candidates can be better evaluated.

Pieris' shares soared 26% on the news.

Pieris is developing bispecific "Anticalin-based" protein therapeutics against cancer targets, a big arena for Roche. The biotech's lead drug is PRS-343 (CD137/HER2 bispecific), which is designed to ramp up an immune system attack in the tumor microenvironment while upping the efficacy of existing therapies. Roche, meanwhile has been hard at work on its PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor, atezolizumab, now in late-stage studies.

On Monday, Roche promised to pay out more than $500 million total to SQZ if its new cell-squeezing R&D technology delivers a grand slam. The same day Pieris issued a release touting positive safety and biomarker data from a Phase I study of its anemia drug PRS-080, an Anticalin protein that sequesters hepcidin.

"The decision by the leader in the development and commercialization of cancer biologics to collaborate with Pieris underscores the unique potential of Anticalin-based proteins as a differentiated class of immuno-oncology drugs," noted CEO Stephen Yoder. "As we initiate this collaboration, we will continue to vigorously advance our fully proprietary programs, including our lead CD137-HER2 bispecific."

- here's the release