German biopharmaceutical firm Affimed has signed a collaboration agreement with Roche unit Genentech to develop and commercialise immunotherapeutics targeting a variety of cancers.

As part of the strategic agreement, Genentech will pay an upfront fee and additional near-term committed funding of $96m to Affimed.

The company may also be eligible to receive additional payments of up to $5bn based on set development, regulatory and commercial milestones.

Genentech will also pay royalties on sales of drugs resulting from the alliance.

Under the collaboration, the partners will focus on NK cell engager-based cancer therapeutics.

Affimed will leverage its Redirected Optimized Cell Killing (ROCK) platform to discover and advance immunotherapies based on innate immune cell engagers.

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The ROCK platform is designed to facilitate antibody engineering of customisable NK and T cell engagers for the generation of clinical candidates.

“Our partnership with Affimed provides an opportunity to enhance our existing efforts to understand how the immune system can be activated to help people with cancer.”

Affimed CEO Adi Hoess said: “This strategic partnership marks an important step on our path to leverage the full potential of innate immune cells in oncology.”

The terms of the partnership covers candidates generated using the platform and several undisclosed solid and hematologic tumour targets.

Genentech and Affimed will jointly work on the discovery, early research and late-stage research phases of new cancer therapeutics. In addition, Genentech will carry out global clinical development and commercialisation activities.

Roche Partnering global head James Sabry said: “This collaboration is based on Affimed’s innate immune cell drug discovery and development expertise and our team’s deep understanding of cancer immunology.

“Our partnership with Affimed provides an opportunity to enhance our existing efforts to understand how the immune system can be activated to help people living with cancer.”

Subject to customary closing conditions and clearances, the agreement is expected to be closed in the third quarter of this year.