Roche bets up to $1B on Blueprint's precision medicine platform

Roche ($RHHBY) is promising up to $1 billion in exchange for as many as 5 targeted cancer therapies from Blueprint Medicines ($BPMC), looking to bolster its own work in immuno-oncology.

Under the deal, Cambridge, MA's Blueprint gets $45 million in upfront cash, and Roche has laid out another $965 million tied to option fees and milestone payments for all 5 potential collaborations. Roche can buy into each Blueprint therapy once it achieves proof of concept in a Phase I trial, the companies said, and Blueprint has the option to retain commercial rights to as many as two of the 5 programs, receiving royalties on the other three.

For Roche, the deal brings in a handful of small-molecule projects focused on immunokinases, enzymes that regulate immune response. Most of today's cancer immunotherapies, including Roche's in-development atezolizumab, are antibody treatments that work by removing the brakes from cancer-fighting T cells. Roche is betting that Blueprint's early-stage work could bring about a complementary force, dovetailing with the effects of so-called checkpoint inhibitors like atezolizumab to create a more powerful weapon against tumors.

And Blueprint sees the partnership as a means to open up a new chapter in immuno-oncology, CEO Jeff Albers said.

"We believe Blueprint Medicines' proprietary drug discovery platform and expertise in immunokinases, combined with our proven ability to move quickly through drug discovery, is a perfect complement to Roche's expertise with cancer immunotherapy biology and in developing and commercializing innovative therapies," Albers said in a statement.

Blueprint, a brainchild of Third Rock Ventures, went public last year on the strength of its R&D platform, which uses genomic profiling to match compounds from a library of kinase inhibitors with the cancers they're best suited to treat, crafting precision therapies. The company inked a similar licensing deal with the rare disease-focused Alexion ($ALXN) in 2015, signing up to reap as much as $265 million.

Meanwhile, Blueprint is at work on a stable of proprietary cancer therapies, led by the liver cancer treatment BLU-554 and gastric cancer medicine BLU-285, both in Phase I development. The company is also planning to take BLU-285 into clinical trials for mastocytosis and has a discovery-stage program targeting the RET kinase to treat multiple cancers.

- read the statement