Roche moved last week to bolster its largely overlooked oncology program, forging an alliance that includes three programs at Agouron Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The deal includes AGPH's Thymitaq inhibitor of the thymidylate synthase enzyme, which is in Phase II/III trials to treat liver cancer and head and neck cancer. But from conversations with Roche, it appears that two earlier stage products included in the deal may be more important to the pharmaceutical company: AG3340, a matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) inhibitor slated to enter Phase I trials in September, and an early research program focused on cell cycle control.