Ablynx salvages Merck Serono alliance with slimmed-down deal

Ablynx (EBR:ABLX) has avoided the worst-case scenario for the collaboration with Merck Serono it entered into in 2013. The deal appeared dead in February but Ablynx has renegotiated the terms, keeping Serono tied into the development of two bispecific single-domain antibodies.

Ablynx CEO Edwin Moses

The compromise represents a partial retreat from the alliance by Serono, which will give Ablynx full ownership of three of the collaborative programs but retain an interest in the two bispecific nanobodies. Serono is due to handover €1 million ($1.1 million) to Ablynx by the end of the year, adding to the €11.5 million it has already ploughed into the research collaboration to date. Beyond that, Ablynx is also in line to receive milestones and royalties on the bispecific nanobodies. Ablynx made no mention of further research funding from Serono in its account of the renegotiated deal.

Ghent, Belgium-based Ablynx originally expected to net more than €25 million over four years and advance six programs to preclinical proof-of-concept, but Serono started to edge away from the plan in the months after striking its $2.85 billion immuno-oncology pact with Pfizer ($PFE). An immuno-oncology asset is among the three programs handed back to Ablynx by Serono. Neither party has disclosed the therapeutic focus of the two programs in which Serono has retained an interest but Jefferies analyst Peter Welford understands they are in immunology and oncology.

The trimmed-down alliance leaves Ablynx with multiple ties to Serono--the two firms struck four deals from 2008 to 2013--and relationships with AbbVie ($ABBV), Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck ($MRK) and Novartis ($NVS). Three partnered programs could enter the clinic this year, bolstering Ablynx's early-phase pipeline at a time when its late-stage activities are ratcheting up. A Phase III trial of caplacizumab--which Ablynx owns outright--in patients with the blood disorder thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura is due to start this year, pushing cash burn for 2015 toward €80 million.

- read the release (PDF)