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Roche boosts immunotherapy with Inovio deal

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche has struck an exclusive global licensing deal with Inovio Pharmaceuticals to develop vaccines to fight cancer and hepatitis B.

Under Tuesday's deal, Roche will pay $10 million up front, with development and commercial milestones of up to $412.5 million for exclusive access to Inovio's DNA-based vaccines INO-5150 for prostate cancer and INO-1800 for hepatitis B.

Inovio will also be entitled to up to double-digit tiered royalties on product sales.

There is growing excitement around a new wave of so-called immunotherapy treatments, which tap the power of the immune system to fight cancer and could have the potential to transform some cancers into something akin to a chronic disease.

In May, Roche announced positive results from clinical trials for its experimental drug to boost the immune system to target cancer.

Inovio's technology looks to stimulate the body's immune system to help it recognize and kill cancerous cells. It also wants to harness the immune system to treat hepatitis B.

The compounds licensed to Roche are currently in pre-clinical development and have shown they can induce the immune system's T cells in animal models.

The Basel-based firm will also gain access to Inovio's electroporation technology, which is used to deliver the vaccines.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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