Merck KGaA, Ablynx push osteoarthritis asset toward clinic

Merck kgaa
Merck has taken control of the Ablynx osteoarthritis asset in return for €15 million upfront and up to €120 million in milestones.

Ablynx and Merck KGaA have moved their osteoarthritis candidate to the cusp of the clinic. Merck accepted the preclinical package for single-domain antibody ALX-1141, triggering a €15 million ($17 million) milestone payment to Ablynx and teeing it up to start clinical development.

The candidate emerged from the third of four collaborations Merck struck with Ablynx. That deal gives Ablynx the option to codevelop assets that advance as far as the clinic. But, in the case of ALX-1141, Ablynx has opted to hand full responsibility for clinical development to Merck in return for up to €120 million in milestones and tiered royalties that run into the double digits.

Those monies will come on top of the €15 million Ablynx received from Merck this week. The 2011 agreement requires Merck to make a payment of that size for each preclinical package it accepts. ALX-1141 is the first program from that agreement to trigger such a milestone payment.

Merck picked out two osteoarthritis targets for Ablynx to work on when it struck the 2011 deal without disclosing their identity. The secretive nature of the project continued throughout the low-profile preclinical development of ALX-1141.

When Merck entered into the osteoarthritis collaboration, it and Ablynx talked up the potential for the single-domain antibody platform to deliver multi-specific candidates with extended half lives. Six years down the line, Ablynx thinks Merck has a possible first-in-class candidate on its hands.

“Our partner Merck has a great deal of experience in osteoarthritis. With no disease-modifying drugs currently approved for osteoarthritis, there is a huge unmet need for new treatments. This Nanobody has the potential to become a first-in-class treatment option for patients suffering from this degenerative joint disease,” Ablynx CEO Edwin Moses said in a statement.

ALX-1141 is set to become the second Ablynx-Merck candidate to enter the clinic. The first, bi-specific anti-IL17A/F antibody ALX-0761, emerged from the 2008 collaboration. Merck licensed the drug in 2013 and went on to post data from a phase 1b psoriasis trial earlier this year.

The programs are part of an expanding clinical pipeline at Ablynx, which has taken lead candidate caplacizumab as far as a filing for approval while seeing its other in-house and partnered assets hustle forward. Boehringer Ingelheim and Novartis join Merck on the list of Ablynx partners that have moved single-domain antibody candidates into the clinic.