LONDON (Reuters) - Ablynx, a Belgian biotech company using llama DNA to develop a new class of drugs, has signed a deal worth up to $212.5 million with U.S. healthcare group Wyeth, the two companies said on Monday.
The agreement will allow Wyeth to develop a new generation of anti-TNF treatments for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis using ultra-small antibodies.
Ablynx is pioneering medicines called nanobodies, which it believes could treat conditions including arthritis, thrombosis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. It expects to start testing them on humans early in 2007.
Its nanobodies are produced by cloning DNA sequences from llamas, which possess fully functional antibodies that are much smaller than those in humans and other animals.
As a result, nanobodies may reach new targets in the body and could potentially be given by mouth rather than injection.
Ablynx has granted Wyeth exclusive worldwide rights to use the technology to target tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF), a protein implicated in inflammation which is inhibited by existing injectable drugs like Wyeth's Enbrel.
Rivals to Enbrel include Johnson & Johnson's Remicade and Abbott Laboratories Inc.'s Humira.
Under the agreement, Ablynx and Wyeth will collaborate to advance drug candidates through preclinical development.
Ablynx -- which hopes to go public next year -- will receive an initial payment, research support and milestone payments that could total $212.5 million. It is also entitled to royalties on any future sales.
The Ghent-based company already has deals with Novartis AG , Johnson & Johnson, Kirin Brewery Co. Ltd. and Procter & Gamble Co..