Biopharmaceutical companies Ablynx and Merck have announced that their collaboration to develop immuno-oncology compounds has reached its first milestone. Ablynx has achieved pre-clinical proof-of-concept with a Nanobody construct, a project included in their collaborative immuno-oncology project. Due to the achievement, Merck will grant a €3.5 million (about $4 million) milestone payment to Ablynx.
The collaboration between Ablynx and Merck involves the discovery and development of up to 17 Nanobody programs, designed to target individual proteins and combinations of mono-specific and multi-specific Nanobodies to be used in the field of immuno-oncology. The Nanobody construct is a selective bi-specific molecule expected to connect two different immune modulators, proteins thought to be targets for the development of important cancer immunotherapies.
According to pre-clinical results, the bi-specific Nanobody construct may be able to inhibit tumor growth. “Combination therapies are the next generation in immuno-oncology and this is where our Nanobody technology offers major advantages. In particular, the ability to rapidly produce single constructs which can bind to multiple target combinations is a very powerful characteristic of our Nanobody platform,” explained Ablynx CEO, Dr. Edwin Moses.
“It is a very significant achievement to have already reached our first pre-clinical milestone just 20 months after the start of our collaboration with Merck. We look forward to further advancing programmes within this collaboration to potentially develop drugs which could transform the treatment of many cancers and the lives of patients,” Moses added.
The companies began their research collaboration and licensing agreement in February 2014, focusing on the discovery and development of five predetermined Nanobody candidates designed to specifically address immune checkpoint modulator targets for testing as potential immunotherapies for cancer. The expansion now gives Ablynx a new responsibility over 12 additional Nanobody programs that address individual protein targets and target combinations. After in vivo pre-clinical proof-of-concept stages, Merck will have the option to advance select lead candidates.
Last July, however, the companies expanded their immuno-oncology partnership with one of Merck & Co.’s subsidiaries to increase the number of immune checkpoint modulator targets. According to the four-year expansion, Ablynx will be granted a €13 million upfront payment, comprised of exclusivity fees and FTE payments, and research grants.
The company will also receive additional payments depending on how many programs Merck decides to proceed with, along with development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments of up to €340 million per program, and tiered royalties on annual net sales upon commercialization of any Nanobody products. Merck will be overseeing clinical development, manufacturing, and commercialization of any products resulting from the collaboration.