Using camel antibodies as drugs, sounds crazy? Belgian Ablynx is exactly doing that and has been very successful so far. It’s now moving to the next step. It already signed a €1.7Bn deal with Merck & Co. in February 2014 and now upgrades it to a gigantic €5.7Bn!

Ablynx is a biotech company developing Nanobodies for immune-oncology applications. Nanobody technology was originally developed after discovering that Camelidae (like camels and llamas) possess fully functional antibodies that only consist of heavy chains and, therefore, lack in light chains. These heavy-chain antibodies contain a single variable domain and two constant domains. The single variable domains have full antigen binding capacity (like our own antibodies) and are very stable, forming the basis of a new generation of therapeutic molecules which Ablynx has named “Nanobodies”.

Ablynx has been very successful in the past years. So successful that it gets tangled up in partnerships with Big Pharma companies, as we wrote in a previous story! In short, it signed with Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck Serono (the german Merck not the one in the title – MSD outside US), Novartis, Abbvie, Eddingpharm and signed a last deal with Genzyme end of May.

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Ablynx is now upgrading its deal with Merck & Co. The deal, originally signed in February 2014, included the discovery and development of five pre-defined Nanobody candidates directed towards immune checkpoint modulator targets for evaluation as immunotherapies for cancer. Merck & Co. expanded this deal to seventeen targets, upgrading the total amount from €1.7Bn to impressive €5.7Bn. Ablynx will now receive €13M upfront from this expansion. A very good deal for the Belgian Biotech.

Two main reasons seems to drive this expansion:

  • Results delivered within the 18 months were good,
  • Merck & Co.’s pipeline is weak and it has fired a good part of its scientists.

This strategic expansion will allow Ablynx to further grow its platform and could allow at the same time Merck & Co. to fulfill its wishes to be a major player in the trending field of immuno-oncology.

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