By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss biotechnology company Molecular Partners said it could earn more than $500 million in payments after striking a deal with U.S. drug giant Amgen to work together in cancer immunotherapy.

The deal, which includes $50 million upfront, is a welcome liquidity infusion for Zurich-based Molecular, which said last year it could sell more shares or seek a partner for one of its pipeline assets to replenish its coffers by 2019. []

In addition to the upfront money, Molecular Partners could get as much as $497 million in milestone payments from Amgen, as well as double-digit, tiered royalties up to the high teens. The companies will share clinical development costs for the first three indications, they said.

The deal involves Molecular Partner’s experimental, pre-clinical molecule, called MP0310, designed to locally activate immune cells in a tumor. The two companies will jointly evaluate MP0310 in combination with Amgen’s oncology products.

“The partnership with Amgen underlines the potential of MP0310,” said Molecular Partners’ CEO Patrick Amstutz, adding he expects the molecule to start clinical trials next year.

Molecular Partners is already working together with Allergan on a drug, abicipar, against macular degeneration. That filing is expected in the first half of 2019.

(Reporting by John Miller, editing by Louise Heavens)