Takeda Pharmaceutical has signed a licence, development and commercialisation agreement with drug development firm Molecular Templates to co-develop protein-based treatments for cancer.

The partners will focus on CD38-targeted engineered toxin bodies (ETBs), and identified a lead candidate during their prior discovery alliance.

As part of the previous collaboration, Takeda and Molecular Templates developed pre-clinical stage CD38-targeting ETBs. These will be further advanced for multiple myeloma treatment under the latest agreement.

Multiple myeloma cells are known to express the CD38 protein, which is recognised and targeted by the ETBs that deliver an altered bacterial toxin. The toxin enters and kills myeloma cells by destroying ribosomes.

Molecular Templates chief executive and scientific officer Eric Poma said: “Takeda’s expertise in multiple myeloma and strong antibody capabilities allowed us to develop CD38-targeted ETBs that, of the ones tested to date, are the most potent ETBs we have created with our platform.”

As ETBs does not depend on the body’s own immune system, they are expected to possess the potential for enhanced responses.

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“We have seen the promise of its ETB platform for the discovery and development of new therapies.”

Takeda Pharmaceutical Oncology Therapeutic Area Unit head Philip Rowlands said: “Throughout our research collaboration with Molecular Templates, we have seen the promise of its ETB platform for the discovery and development of new therapies.

“As we expand our relationship and continue to explore next-generation modalities, our hope is to bring forth new and important treatment options for patients.”

The terms of the agreement will see an upfront payment of $30m from Takeda to Molecular Templates, which will also be eligible for up to $632.5m in development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments upon exercising its co-development option.

In case Molecular Templates decides to not exercise or opts out of the co-development option, it will potentially receive $337.5m.

Furthermore, Takeda will pay royalties on sales of the commercial product resulting from the alliance. The development costs will be equally shared by the partners.