Hot Ablynx antibody tech earns $69M discovery pact with Merck Serono

Just days after a rapidly downsizing Pfizer offloaded a partnership with Belgium's Ablynx on its hot nanobody technology, Merck Serono has stepped up to the plate with a fresh $28 million upfront payment to expand their ambitious antibody development partnership. This third pact covers the co-development of two new therapies for osteoarthritis, with $41 million in milestones up for grabs if Merck Serono opts to accept the preclinical packages that Ablynx offers.

"We are impressed by the speed with which Ablynx has progressed in our ongoing programmes and we believe they could become a valuable source of new drug candidates for Merck Serono," said Dr. Bernhard Kirschbaum, head of global discovery and early development at Merck Serono. "We believe that the specific features of the nanobodies have the potential to address key challenges in the treatment of osteoarthritis."

Ablynx shares ($ABLX) were up about 7% on the news this morning.

Antibodies are hot, a theme that Deloitte Recap hit on yesterday as it analyzed the deal terms in the field. Deloitte Recap analyst Jennifer Doyle in particular noted that the kind of domain antibodies that Ablynx works on are particularly appealing to Big Pharma partners today.

Pfizer ($PFE) handed back a portfolio of nanobody programs for rheumatoid arthritis--including the mid-stage drug ATN-103 and PF-05230905, which is in early-stage development--obtained in the Wyeth buyout. Ablynx and Merck Serono originally partnered three years ago, adding a second program in 2010.

- here's the press release