In a busy week for the Belgian firm, Ablynx has significantly expanded its partnership with Merck KGaA and inked a multi-year research alliance covering a number of therapeutic areas.
Under the terms of the agreement, the German company's Merck Serono unit will fund a dedicated discovery group at Ablynx and the partners will jointly develop nanobodies, a class of antibody-derived therapeutic proteins. The collaboration will span all of Merck Serono’s core R&D fields, including oncology, immuno-oncology, immunology and neurology.

The alliance will have a term of four years, with the option to extend by two and a half years. Research funding from Merck Serono will be over 25 million euros, including an initial payment of 11.5 million euros at signing, and  the aim is to deliver at least six programmes with proof-of-principle in a relevant animal model.

Ablynx chief executive Edwin Moses said that "this is a very exciting expansion" of an alliance "with a partner with whom we have successfully worked for over five years". He added that "it is a very interesting model that could create substantial value for both parties".
Bernhard Kirschbaum, head of R&D at Merck Serono, said that "we have established a very trustful and productive partnership with Ablynx and a first compound has entered Phase I at the beginning of 2013". He claimed that "both sides know how to best conceptually design programmes to ensure technology fit, differentiation potential and a clear scientific rationale [and] our common goal is to develop novel biologics with a high degree of differentiation".
The companies first got together in 2008, focusing on two targets in oncology and immunology, followed by an inflammatory contract in 2010. A third agreement was signed in November 2011 to develop nanobodies against two targets in osteoarthritis.

Earlier this week, Ablynx licensed rights to an investigational rheumatoid arthritis drug to AbbVie which could bring the Ghent-based group up to $840 million.