Avila Therapeutics Inc., a privately held biotechnology company, will receive an upfront payment of $40 million from French drug maker sanofi-aventis, as part of a research collaboration aimed at developing cancer drugs that could net it a total of $800 million.
The Waltham-based biotech will also receive up to $154 million in milestone payments per program for any drug that is eventually approved from a total of six separate development programs, and could also receive royalty payments if a treatment reaches the market.
The announcement underscores sanofi’s growing interest in acquiring and partnering with Massachusetts biotechnology companies, at it seeks to strengthen its position in biologics - cell-based drugs - versus pharmaceuticals, made from chemicals. Sanofi is locked in a four month long stalemate with Cambridge-based Genzyme Corp. (Nasdaq:GENZ), following an acquisition offer of $69 per share of Genzyme stock, with Genzyme says is too low. Sanofi revealed last week  that less that one percent of Genzyme’s shares had been tendered so far.