Ascenta Therapeutics and sanofi-aventis have entered into a collaboration and licensing agreement covering several early-stage agents being investigated for their potential to restore tumour cell apoptosis (programmed cell death).

Ascenta Therapeutics and sanofi-aventis said that these orally active, small-molecule drug candidates remove a block to normal p53 tumour suppressor function and inhibit the interaction between HDM2 (human double minute 2) and p53, thus enhancing cancer control and treatment.

As per the terms of the agreement, sanofi-aventis has received an exclusive worldwide license from Ascenta Therapeutics to develop, manufacture and commercialise all compounds issued from this programme.

Under the agreement, Ascenta is expected to receive an upfront payment, in addition to development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments that could reach a total of $398m.

Ascenta is also eligible to receive tiered royalties on worldwide product sales.

The agreement includes two agents that Ascenta Therapeutics previously in-licensed from the University of Michigan, MI-773 and MI-519-64.

The companies are expected to continue to fund research on these targets at the University of Michigan, and Ascenta Therapeutics may participate in ongoing research activities and potential future clinical development.

Mel Sorensen, president and CEO of Ascenta Therapeutics, said “restoring tumour suppressor function through the inhibition of the HDM2-p53 interaction is expected to control and prevent cancer progression.”