Merck has reported promising results in Phase Ib for a psoriasis treatment that employs Ablynx’ unique nanobody technology.
Ablynx, based in Belgium, is one of the few European biotechs that made it into JP Morgan this year. The company’s success is founded on its unique nanobodies, small artificial antibodies inspired from those found in llamas. Its latest news comes from a Phase Ib trial in psoriasis run by its German partner Merck.
Back in 2008, both companies signed a deal for the development of nanobodies that could reach up to €325M. And it seems to be paying off. The company announced that the candidate achieved more than a 75% reduction of the disease activity in all the patients treated with the three higher doses.
The trial tested Ablynx’ bispecific nanobody M1095, previously ALX-0761, which blocks two different forms of interleukin 17 (IL-17). In addition, the nanobody binds to human serum albumin to increase the time it spends in the bloodstream.
Psoriasis consists in the overproduction of skin cells, creating inflamed lesions that can lead to disability in severe cases. It’s a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects 125 million people in the world and 14 million Europeans. With the psoriasis market estimated to reach €12.4B by 2024, Merck will encounter plenty of competition for its early clinical stage candidate.
Currently, the best-selling drug Humira (adalimumab) dominates this market, but it might not last for long. Its US patent expired last December, allowing a long list of competitors, led by Amgen and Boehringer Ingelheim, to commercialize biosimilars. In addition, MorphoSys has reported Phase III results indicating that its candidate guselkumab for plaque psoriasis performs better than AbbVie’s blockbuster Humira.
However, if the nanobody candidate proves its efficacy and safety in clinical development, Merck might still have an advantage over its competitors in this crowded field. The small size of Ablynx’ nanobodies advantages in terms of delivery and manufacturing while keeping high affinity to the drug’s target that could make a difference when competing in the market.
Images from Alina Sokolova/Shutterstock, Ablynx