Celgene and Nurix have entered a strategic collaboration to discover, develop and commercialise new small molecule therapeutics in oncology, inflammation and immunology, including the rapidly evolving field of immuno-oncology.

As part of the deal, Celgene will make an upfront payment to Nurix of $150m, plus an undisclosed equity investment, for an option to licence future programmes, with the ability to extend the option to licence term for additional payments.

Both firms will jointly work to advance new therapies that function through the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) to modulate protein homeostasis, a fundamental cellular process controlling protein levels.

The company noted that mutations in UPS genes are common drivers of many human cancers, while certain UPS genes function in normal physiology encoding major checkpoints in the immune response.

"This collaboration extends our approach in the E3 ubiquitin ligase space, and provides a highly complementary effort addressing important targets in oncology and immune-inflammatory diseases."

Nurix CEO Arthur Sands said: "Given its global leadership position in the UPS field, Celgene is the ideal partner for Nurix to fully realise the potential of our unique drug discovery engine for small molecule activators and inhibitors of E3 ubiquitin ligases and E2 conjugating enzymes.

"With a shared vision to create a new class of drugs that work by selectively modulating cellular protein levels, we have designed a transformative collaboration that empowers Nurix to move its pipeline from discovery through development and commercialisation.

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"We look forward to working with Celgene, the pre-eminent company in development and commercialisation of therapies targeting the UPS."

During the option to licence term, Nurix may focus on investigating E3 ubiquitin ligases and E2 conjugating enzymes to identify the new drug discovery programmes for use in oncology or inflammation and immunology therapeutic applications.

The deal will see Nurix responsible for all drug discovery and development activities through the end of Phase I clinical trials.

Under the deal, Celgene may license global development and commercialisation rights to a programme in exchange for an option fee, potential clinical, regulatory and sales milestone payments totalling up to $405m, as well as future tiered single-digit to low double-digit royalties on global sales.

The company will have worldwide rights to collaboration products, with the exception of certain products that Nurix retains US development and commercialisation rights.

Celgene Global Research and Early Development president Thomas Daniel said: "Consistent with our deep commitment and competitive position in the arena of protein homeostasis, we are excited to initiate this collaboration with the exceptional team that Nurix has assembled.

"This collaboration extends our approach in the E3 ubiquitin ligase space, and provides a highly complementary effort addressing important targets in oncology and immune-inflammatory diseases."