News Feature | February 4, 2014

Merck and Ablynx Sign Global Cancer Immunotherapy Agreement Worth Up To $2.3 Billion

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By Estel Grace Masangkay

Merck & Company has signed a new global cancer immunotherapy deal with Belgium-based biotech Ablynx worth up to $2.3 billion (1.7 billion euros). The deal follows up on an earlier collaboration between the companies to develop and commercialize nanobodies to target cancer and other diseases.

The new exclusive collaboration and licensing agreement will center on new generation immunotherapy drugs intended to activate the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Several predefined nanobody candidates including bi- and tri-specifics will be developed under the deal. These nanobodies are directed toward immune checkpoint modulators, proteins speculated to provide potential targets for cancer immunotherapy development.

Ablynx will receive an upfront payment of about $13 million from Merck. The company also stands to receive up to $14.4 million in research funding in its first three years, as well as developmental, regulatory and commercial milestone payments with an ultimate accrued potential of up to $2.3 billion plus tiered royalties. Merck has taken responsibility to develop, manufacture, and market any potential drugs that will be produced from the deal.

Ablynx CEO Dr. Edwin Moses said, “We are pleased to have expanded our relationship with Merck beyond the collaboration we signed in 2012. It demonstrates the potential of our Nanobody platform and how it can be used to discover and develop therapeutics in important areas of unmet medical need. The collaboration will benefit from the world-class resources and expertise that Merck has in the immuno-oncology field and we look forward to a fruitful and successful partnership in the development of these new therapeutic candidates.”

Market analysts estimate the global market for cancer immunotherapy could hit $35 billion a year in as little as a decade. Projected peak sales for Yervoy alone, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immunotherapy treatment against melanoma, are estimated to reach $6 billion.

Merck Research Laboratories president Dr. Roger Perlmutter said, “This collaboration positions Merck to expand our early oncology pipeline by developing innovative candidates based on Ablynx’s Nanobody technology. This second agreement builds beyond our ongoing collaboration in neuroscience and is consistent with Merck’s focus on developing candidates with the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients.”

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