ZURICH (Reuters) - Roche has bought the rights to an experimental drug from Spain's Oryzon Genomics that can switch on genes to block cancer growth, as the Swiss drugmaker looks to maintain its dominance in the lucrative field of oncology.
The world's largest maker of cancer drugs will pay Barcelona-based Oryzon $21 million in upfront and near-term milestone payments and could pay out more than $500 million if the company meets other goals, it said in a statement on Monday.
The deal will give Roche rights to Oryzon's experimental drug ORY-1001 which was granted orphan drug status by European health regulators last year and is currently in early-stage clinical testing for acute myeloid leukaemia.
Roche will also pay up to mid-double digit percentage royalties if the drug makes it to market.
The Basel-based firm has notched up billions of dollars in sales from its top-selling biotech cancer medicines MabThera, Herceptin and Avastin, which consist of complex proteins derived from living cells.
Over the past year, Roche has won approval for improved versions of these older drugs and is also developing experimental medicines that harness the body's immune system to fight cancer - a hot area for many drug companies at the moment.
Under Monday's deal, the two companies will also look at developing other similar drugs to treat cancer and blood diseases using epigenetics, the study of the mechanisms that activate and de-activate genes, without altering the DNA itself.
ORY-1001 works by blocking an enzyme called Lysine Specific Demethylase 1 (LSD1), which turns off genes and has been identified as playing a role in certain types of leukaemia.
The deal includes a two-year collaboration to develop LSD1 inhibitors at Roche's Translational Clinical Research Centre in New York.
Also on Monday, Roche said it has agreed to buy privately-held U.S. diagnostics company IQuum in a deal worth up to $450 million to strengthen its molecular diagnostics business.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley, Editing by Ben Hirschler)