Ablynx and Merck & Co. inked a potentially €500 million (approximately $646.7 million) collaboration agreement to develop Nanobody® therapeutics targeting a voltage-gated ion channel. The deal includes the option to develop and commercialize a Nanobody against a second target.

Under terms of the agreement Ablynx will be responsible for nanobody discovery, and Merck will shoulder research, development, manufacturing, and commercialization of resulting products. The firm retains exclusive global rights to Nanobodies against the selected target, and an option for similar rights to a second target. Ablynx will receive a €6.5 million (around $8.4 million) up-front payment and another €2 million (approximately $2.6 million) in research funding. The firm could be eligible for up to €448 million (roughly $579.6 million) in research, regulatory, and commercial milestones relating to multiple candidates, plus future sales royalties.

Ablynx says ion channel targets have proved particularly problematic as a target for monoclonal antibodies, whereas it has already identified agonistic and antagonistic functional Nanobodies against both voltage-gated and ligand-gated ion channels. “Due to the formatting flexibility of Nanobodies, we are able to combine antibody-like selectivity and multispecificity in one molecule, making them ideal candidates for ion channel modulators,” comments Edwin Moses, M.D., chairman and CEO. “This agreement reflects the potential power of the nanobody platform and the considerable success we have had to date with seven Nanobody programs at the clinical development stage.”

Ablynx’s single-domain antibody fragment Nanobodies are derived from the single variable domain (VHH) of heavy-chain antibodies, and effectively represent the smallest functional fragment of a naturally occurring single-chain antibody. The firm’s in-house Nanobody pipeline includes clinical-stage candidates in the areas of hematology, inflammation, immunology, infection, cancer, and pulmonary infections. A pipeline of joint-owned and fully partnered preclinical and clinical-stage candidates is also in development, targeting a range of diseases in multiple therapeutic fields.

Last month Ablynx reported positive data from the a Phase I trial with its first inhaled Nanobody, ALX-0171, a trivalent molecule in development for the treatment of respiratory syncytial virus infections. 

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