BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Boehringer Ingelheim and Ablynx have come together on a $265 million deal to explore the use of Ablynx' novel class of therapeutic proteins - nanobodies - in treatments for Alzheimer's disease. Andreas Barner, Boehringer Ingelheim's vice chairman and head of pharma research, described it as a "powerful and unique technology."

It marks Ingelheim, Germany-based Boehringer Ingelheim's first venture into Alzheimer's. The move matches the company's extensive expertise in the central nervous system area, particularly in neurodegenerative disease and areas of high medical need, Julia Meyer-Kleinmann, of Boehringer Ingelheim, told BioWorld International. "We are very pleased with the deal and expect good cooperation," she said.

The exclusive worldwide collaboration and license agreement covers discovery and development of new therapies using nanobodies. Boehringer Ingelheim will be solely responsible for the development, manufacture and commercialization of any products resulting from the collaboration. The deal includes an up-front fee, development, and commercial milestones. Ablynx, of Brussels, Belgium, also will receive undisclosed royalties based on net sales. In addition Boehringer Ingelheim will start a joint research program that includes Ablynx scientists.

Nanobodies, pioneered by Ablynx, are based on single-domain antibody fragments, and may be capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier more readily than conventional antibodies, thus circumventing frequently encountered difficulties with drug treatments for Alzheimer's. The company claims that nanobody-based therapeutics combine the beneficial features of conventional antibodies with the desirable properties of small-molecule drugs. Because they are derived from naturally occurring heavy-chain antibodies, they are sufficiently stable to allow delivery orally, in sprays or creams, as well as via injection, overcoming the delivery issues associated with full-sized antibodies.

Their structure also allows them to address therapeutic opportunities that are beyond the reach of conventional antibodies or their fragments, such as targeting epitopes such as receptor clefts, enzyme active sites and viral canyon sites.

Gayle Wing of the UK Alzheimer's Society told BioWorld International it was "one of a number of potentially promising and very innovative techniques." But, she added, "We know that there are a number of projects that will be looking into this area. It is still in the very early stages in terms of Alzheimer's research."

Edwin Moses, Ablynx CEO, admitted there is a long way to go before any treatments emerge. "But", he said, "the deal shows that Boehringer Ingelheim, with its expertise in this area, believes there is a strong probability that the technology can deliver useful therapies. We will be working with them to develop nanobodies around a range of targets."

Ablynx also is involved in research collaborations and partnerships on nanobodies with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Novartis AG and Centocor Inc. in therapeutic fields that include inflammation and oncology. In addition, Moses said Ablynx plans to start a Phase I trial with its own anthrombotic in Germany early in 2007 following a clinical trial authorization received in December. "This is the first time a product based on nanobodies will be used in man," he said.