Belgium’s Galapagos is teaming up with Germany’s MorphoSys to develop antibody therapies to treat bone and joint disease.

The long-term alliance “spans all activities from target discovery through to completion of proof of concept clinical trials of novel therapeutic antibodies”, the firms noted. Galapagos will provide antibody targets implicated in bone and joint disease in addition to its adenoviral target discovery platform, while MorphoSys will contribute its HuCAL technologies to generate fully human antibodies directed against these targets.

The two companies will share the R&D costs, as well as all future revenues equally. Initially they will focus on three targets implicated in bone and joint disease and Galapagos has already begun production of these proteins for the alliance. The latter’s chief executive Onno van de Stolpe said on a conference call that each programme will cost around 10-20 million euros and having achieved proof-of-concept, marketing partners will be sought.

The firms noted that three main indications of bone and joint disease - rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis – “all represent very significant market opportunities” and combined sales of drugs in these indications were more than $15 billion in 2006. In 2007, total sales for the 20 antibody drugs on the market amounted to more than $25 billion and this figure is forecast to increase to $50 billion in 2013.

Furthermore they noted that the average industry timescale from discovery to pre-clinical development of antibody therapies is only two to three years, as opposed to six years for small molecules, and the newer drugs also incur lower attrition rates.