Ablynx NV signed its third headline-grabbing deal in 10 months and fifth significant alliance overall, a potential €1.3 billion collaboration that likely will be the last of its kind as the company plans to further assert the strong position of its Nanobody platform going forward.

Ablynx is assured more than €45 million in the new 10-target deal with Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, its largest collaboration by far. The Ghent, Belgium-based firm also could get another €30 million or so over the research portion of the deal, and €125 million in development milestone payments for each of the targets, or €1.25 billion overall.

The €1.3 billion (US$1.8 billion) deal with BI increases the value of the company's three most recent deals to more than $2 billion. One was a potential $212 million deal with Wyeth in November to develop Nanobodies against tumor necrosis factor-alpha. The other, also with BI, was a potential $265 million deal in January covering a single target in Alzheimer's disease.

"It's very satisfying to do another deal with someone we're working with that knows us very well," Edwin Moses, chairman and CEO of Ablynx, told BioWorld Today. Not only does that demonstrate encouragement for their work to date in Alzheimer's, he said, but brings further aboard a company and resources that will help Ablynx move forward more independently.

The collaboration includes two firsts for Ablynx in terms of deal making: It is getting an equity investment from the partner, and it retained certain co-promotion rights in Europe.

Moses said expected payments of €75 million include a €15 million equity investment from BI, which is gaining an undisclosed stake. The remaining €60 million covers payments expected over the five-year research term, "something over half" of which is guaranteed and the remainder to be earned with attainment of relatively short-term, research-based milestones.

In addition to €125 million in potential milestones for each of the 10 targets, Ablynx also would be entitled to royalties on sales.

The work with BI, of Ingelheim, Germany, covers multiple therapeutic areas, including immunology, oncology and respiratory, the companies said. Three undisclosed targets were included in the contract, with the remaining seven to be determined, Moses said. Boehringer Ingelheim is responsible for the development, manufacture and commercialization of resulting products.

Ablynx's five major deals, which also include work with Procter & Gamble Co. and Novartis AG, appear to cover about 20 to 30 targets. Privately held Ablynx is not close to exhausting its areas of opportunity, however, as it has generated Nanobodies to "well over 100 targets," Moses said, adding that the total universe of targets and combination targets applicable to its Nanobody technology is 1,000 to 2,000.

The new deal with BI, he said, brings leverage to the Nanobody platform, while also contributing manufacturing and therapeutics expertise from BI to the platform. The significant cash component of the deal also helps, he said, supplementing the €40 million Ablynx raised in a Series C financing in August 2006.

Those aspects of the deal will help as Ablynx focuses more on developing its own product pipeline, which now includes an anti-thrombotic agent in Phase I development.

"This is important to us because one of our clearly stated goals is to maximize this platform, with a lot of programs and a lot of indications, Moses said. "We structured the deals carefully on how much we signed away," deals that cover targets or combination targets rather than indications.

The co-promotion aspect of the new BI deal is a "sign of the maturing of the company," Moses said. "Those things are harder to negotiate when you are an early stage company.

"It's not very likely we would do another deal like the one we did with Boehringer Ingelheim today," he said. "Going forward, we're interested in deals where we are contributing cash and owning more of the product being developed."

The company's Nanobodies are antibody-derived therapeutic proteins containing a small, functional fragment of a single-chain antibody. The products are designed to combine the high-target specificity and affinity of conventional antibodies with the small-molecule advantages of enzyme inhibition and access to receptor clefts, as well as those related to drug administration and manufacturing.

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