Belgian company Ablynx has signed a deal with US drugmaker Wyeth to develop a new class of drugs targeted against tumour necrosis factor-alfa (TNF).

The alliance, which could be worth up to $212.5 million to Ablynx if multiple drugs successfully make their way through development, is focusing on the development of a novel class of antibody-derived therapeutic proteins known as Nanobodies.

Wyeth and Ablynx will work together on the development of Nanobodies against TNF and its receptors that target diseases in multiple therapeutic areas.

At the moment none of these candidates have reached the clinical testing stage, but Ablynx maintains that they could have significant advantages over existing ant-TNF drugs, which include blockbusters such as Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade (infliximab), Wyeth/Amgen’s Enbrel (etanercept) and Abbott’s Humira (adalimumab) used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and other immunological disorders.

Nanobodies have the targeting power of antibodies but, because they are much smaller molecules and are very stable, are easier to deliver into the body. Ablynx believes they will be suitable for delivery by injection, orally and in sprays or creams.

In addition, they can reach targets that antibodies or antibody fragments cannot, including receptor clefts, enzyme active sites and viral canyon sites, and should be cheaper to manufacture.