Roche takes a gamble on Upsher-Smith's anti-inflammatory project

Roche ($RHHBY) is joining forces with Upsher-Smith on a Phase II therapy with potential in inflammatory disease, in-licensing the drug with plans to flesh out its promise before taking the plunge on late-stage development.

Roche partnering head Sophie Kornowski-Bonnet

Under the agreement, Roche is paying an undisclosed upfront fee for the rights to an oral, small-molecule inhibitor of vascular adhesion protein 1, or VAP-1, which plays a role in the inflammatory process. Roche is promising another untold sum to be meted out along with development, regulatory and sales milestones to get its hands on the drug, which was among the star assets driving Upsher-Smith's $553 million buyout of Proximagen in 2012.

But first the Swiss drugmaker wants to make sure its new therapy has a real shot a success. Per the terms of the deal, Roche is set to work with Proximagen on Phase II studies to "define the therapeutic potential" of the molecule, the company said, holding off its decision on whether to assume full responsibility until it sees those data. If everything goes according to plan, Roche will advance the compound into Phase III and Upsher-Smith will be in line for cash incentives. If not, the collaboration will end there.

"This agreement is a novel partnering model where regulatory responsibility and trial sponsorship will only transition upon the success of additional clinical studies," Roche partnering head Sophie Kornowski-Bonnet said in a statement. "A dedicated and very experienced team located at the Roche Innovation Center New York will drive the development most efficiently from our side."

And Roche has frequently demonstrated its willingness to pull the plug on pair-ups that aren't moving forward to its liking. This week, the company backed out of an antibiotics partnership with Polyphor that could have been worth up to $560 million, nixing a 2014 deal that heralded Roche's return to the field. The pharma giant also ditched a $1 billion collaboration with Molecular Partners earlier this year and walked away from a $600 million agreement with Chiasma in 2014.

- read the statement