GlaxoSmithKline has signed what could be a billion-dollar deal with a Massachusetts firm for rights to a potential cancer drug.

GSK said Wednesday it would pay Synta Pharmaceuticals $80 million in an up-front payment for joint development and commercialization rights to a compound called STA-4783. It is entering Phase III clinical trials.

The drug could be a treatment for metastatic melanoma.

GSK would gain exclusive rights to sell the drug outside the U.S.

Synta also could receive milestone payments up to $135 million leading to approval of the drug. Another $750 million in milestone payments also could be made.

GSK also has the option to purchase up to $45 million in Synta stock in the future.

GSK maintains one of its two U.S. headquarters in RTP and employs some 6,000 people in the Triangle area.