Promising RA antibody data may help encourage new Ablynx partnership

Last fall Pfizer wrote off its investment in a partnership it had struck with Ablynx on an experimental antibody treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, complimenting the Belgian biotech for its work and insisting that its retreat was simply the result of the pharma giant's ongoing pipeline evaluation. Now Ablynx has posted some positive trial extension data, noting some promising results among mid-stage patients who continued treatment over 48 weeks. And it's hopeful to have a new partner to take Pfizer's ($PFE) place by the end of the year.

Ablynx had already established positive proof-of-concept data for ozoralizumab (ATN-103). Now it also has evidence that the treatment, built on Ablynx's unique platform for tiny antibodies which are derived from llamas, is far less likely than Humira to spark an immune response that can defeat the efficacy of the therapy. About 1% of the patients in the study extension developed antibodies to fight off the treatment, compared to about 5% that historically reject Humira. All the patients had cases of rheumatoid arthritis which couldn't be treated by methotrexate alone.

"We now have extensive efficacy data that are potentially as good, if not better, than other commercially available anti-TNFα products (and this is a $24 billion market) and, in terms of immunogenicity, an unexpected and potentially major advantage over Humira, the world's biggest selling anti-TNFα and any of its biosimilar competitors that may be launched in the future," says Edwin Moses, the CEO of Ablynx. "We believe that we now have the components of a much stronger and differentiating licensing package than we had previously."

"If your question is 'does this have impact on partnering discussions', yes, because they come with a stronger data package and there is some potential for differentiation," KBC Securities analyst Jan De Kerpel tells Reuters.

Ablynx has struck a variety of partnership deals over the years, including one with Merck Serono that was sealed just days after Pfizer bowed out. Deloitte Recap analysts have been bullish about the antibody technology that Ablynx utilizes and antibodies overall have a better shot at an eventual approval compared to most other treatment categories.

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- here's the Reuters story