Merck Serono, Ablynx re-up for fourth partnership on nanobody discovery

By Zachary Brennan

- Last updated on GMT

Nanobodies are quickly becoming a hot tech platform for biopharma development
Nanobodies are quickly becoming a hot tech platform for biopharma development

Related tags: Merck serono, Antibody, Rheumatoid arthritis

Ablynx and Merck Serono expanded their relationship for a fourth time – this time in a four-year deal worth about $34m (€25m), including an initial payment of $15.5m (€11.5m).

A team of between 11 and 20 scientists from Ablynx will work with Merck Serono to identify particular targets for developing biopharmaceutical treatments in the areas of oncology, immuno-oncology, immunology and neurology, Ablynx spokeswoman Marieke Vermeersch told BioPharma-Reporter.com.

Ablynx’s nanobody platform offers companies an advantage over conventional antibody development because they can be manufactured in yeast or E. Coli​ cell lines, and not just mammalian cell lines, Vermeersch said, noting production “is much easier,​” comparing them to small molecule drugs.

The production is scalable and multi-kilogram quantities of nanobodies have been produced, Ablynx says. They can also be formulated for a long shelf-life and have the potential to be administered by other means than an injection because they are more stable than conventional antibodies.

Vermeersch added that the ability to inhale nanobodies and their malleability also offer advantages over classical antibodies. The partnership, which is an extension of the previous three deals that ran for five years, will help Merk Serono prioritize which compounds are best suited for late-stage development. The deal also has an option for a two and a half year extension.

 “We have established a very trustful and productive partnership with Ablynx and a first compound has entered Phase I at the beginning of 2013​,” added Dr. Bernhard Kirschbaum, EVP and Head of Global Research and Early Development at Merck Serono.

Other Potential

And Merck Serono isn’t the only company to believe in this discovery platform. Abbvie, owner of the world’s best-selling drug Humira, purchased the rights to a potential rheumatoid arthritis and lupus drug developed on the nanobody platform for as much as $840m.

The nanobody technology was originally developed after the discovery that camels and llamas possess fully functional antibodies that lack light chains.

Shire took advantage of a similar discovery platform that utilizes llama antibodies​, and awarded the developer, arGEN-x a milestone payment last week. 

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