Japan-based Astellas Pharma has entered an exclusive research and development collaboration agreement with Potenza Therapeutics to develop a portfolio of immune-oncology therapeutics.

Under the deal, the firms will advance a portfolio that includes programmes with novel mechanisms of action targeting immune checkpoint pathways, co-stimulatory signals and regulatory T cells.

The deal will also provide an option for Astellas to acquire Potenza on pre-determined terms at the end of the collaboration period.

Potenza Therapeutics co-founder and CEO Dr Daniel Hicklin said: "We are at the beginning of a new era in cancer therapy. First generation immuno-oncology therapeutics have demonstrated meaningful clinical benefit to patients with certain cancers.

"We are at the beginning of a new era in cancer therapy."

"The new targets and pathways that Potenza is working on offer promise for continued expansion of immunotherapy treatment options."

Under the agreement, Potenza will take the responsibility for drug discovery activities and deliver development candidates to Astellas, while Astellas will involve in clinical development activities and commercialisation.

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Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but will include an equity investment, option fee, research funding, and potential future acquisition and milestone payments.

Astellas Pharma senior vice-president and chief strategy officer Dr Kenji Yasukawa said: "Despite the recent clinical success of checkpoint-blocking monoclonal antibodies targeting PD-1, PD-L1 and CTLA-4, there still remains significant unmet medical need in non-responder patients and unresponsive tumour types."

Image: Astellas Pharma’s Miyukigaoka Research Centre. Photo: courtesy of Miyuki Meinaka.