BioSante Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: BPAX) latest cancer vaccine deal looks better than the last, but it still isn't what I'd call a stellar deal.

You'll recall that the biotech licensed its pancreas and prostate cancer vaccine to be used in combination with Aduro BioTech's CRS-207 for nothing up front. Zip. Zero. Nada.

BioSante was able to get something for licensing its melanoma vaccine, but the up front payment amounted to a measly $100,000. That's not going to pay a whole lot of bills for its lead compound, LibiGel.

If the melanoma vaccine works, BioSante will be reap rewards on the back end. It's eligible for $39 million in milestone payments and undisclosed royalties on sales of the drug.

The licenser of the melanoma vaccine, the John P. Hussman Foundation, is an interesting choice for a partner. The nonprofit has dedicated $11 million to developing the drug, and it appears to be planning to ship it off to some larger drug developer once it has more clinical data. BioSante will get between 15% and 33% of the sublicense payments, depending on when it's shipped off.

Eliciting help from nonprofits isn't all that weird, but it usually happens for diseases where the market is fairly small. Vertex Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: VRTX) has received help from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to develop its cystic fibrosis drugs. But the melanoma market is lucrative enough that big players like Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) and Roche are already in it.

Why didn't a large pharma pick up the melanoma vaccine for an up front payment with more than six digits? One can only assume that they see the development as too risky. Despite the success of Dendreon's (Nasdaq: DNDN) Provenge and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Yervoy, immunotherapies are still far from a sure thing.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.