GHENT, Belgium—Ablynx and Merck & Co. Inc., known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, have expanded their immuno-oncology collaboration in order to address more immune checkpoint modulator targets. The expansion is for four years, and per the terms of the expansion, Merck will pay Ablynx €13 million (approximately $20.2 million) in an upfront payment consisting of exclusivity fees and FTE payments, in addition to further research funding over the term of the deal. Ablynx will also be eligible to receive additional exclusivity fees based on the number of programs for which Merck exercises its licensing option, plus development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments of up to €340 million (approximately $529.3 million) per program. Ablynx also stands to receive tiered royalties on annual net sales should any products be commercialized. Merck will assume responsibility for the clinical development, manufacturing and commercialization of any products that result from this agreement.
“Immuno-oncology remains a key area of focus for Merck,” Dr. Joseph Miletich, senior vice president of Discovery Research and Development for Merck Research Laboratories, remarked in a press release. “The expansion of this ongoing collaboration with Ablynx allows us to increase our ability to evaluate the potential of more immune checkpoint targets for the treatment of cancer.”
The companies' original collaboration began in February of last year for the discovery and development of five pre-defined Nanobody candidates, including multi-specific Nanobody combinations, directed against immune checkpoint modulator targets as potential cancer immunotherapies. Per this expansion, Ablynx will be responsible for discovering and developing up to 12 additional Nanobody programs against individual protein targets and target combinations through in-vivo proof of concept, after which Merck has the option to advance specified lead candidates.
The terms of the original agreement stipulated that Ablynx would receive €20 million (approximately $31.1 million) upfront with €10.7 million (approximately $16.6 million) in research funding for the initial three-year term of the deal. Ablynx also stands to receive milestone payments on sales thresholds that could total as much as €1.7 billion (approximately $2.6 billion).
Commenting on the announcement, Dr Edwin Moses, CEO of Ablynx, said: “This significant expansion of our collaboration with Merck after less than 18 months underlines the promise offered by our Nanobody platform in the discovery of unique new therapeutic agents. The speed and flexibility of the platform and its ability to develop multi-specific candidates against target combinations is a very powerful characteristic of the Nanobody technology. We are pleased that Merck, one of the leaders in this emerging field, has expanded its collaboration with us and we look forward to continuing our collaboration in the development of these innovative immuno-oncology drug candidates which could potentially transform the treatment of many cancers.”
The two companies also have a second collaboration underway, this one in ion channel drug development. The deal was struck in October 2012.