Spurned by AbbVie, Ablynx wins another Big Pharma partner offering a blockbuster prize for success

Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt (left), flanked by CFO Jerome Contamine, speaks during a February 2017 company presentation getty

Nine months after AbbVie dealt Ablynx a blow by walking away from a messy rheumatoid arthritis drug it was partnered on, the Belgian biotech has come back and added another Big Pharma company to its list of partners for its Nanobody platform tech. And this one is dangling a treasure trove of milestone payments if its researchers can turn in a blockbuster performance.

Sanofi is jumping on board today, paying a modest $28 million to get the partnership started and offering up to $2.8 billion in milestones in the deal. Their focus is on immune-mediated inflammatory diseases, which covers quite a bit of biologic territory. But there wasn’t a lot of detail into what they planned to go after together.

Last October AbbVie wrote off its pact with Ablynx along with its $175 million upfront after its IL-6R drug vobarilizumab performed poorly in advanced clinical trials for rheumatoid arthritis. Not only did the treatment flop on the ACR20 goal, it also failed on a score of improved physical function when combined with methotrexate against methotrexate alone. And earlier the Ablynx program had proved at best a matchup to Roche’s Actemra, approved seven years ago. And that happened while a slate of major players were advancing their own drugs through Phase III. AbbVie has an in-house program it’s also considerably pumped about.

Ablynx is already aligned with both Mercks, Novartis and Novo Nordisk, among others. Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt is under considerable pressure to build up its pipeline, though its partnership with Regeneron has paid off with a string of major drug approvals, including recent OKs for their IL-6 rheumatoid arthritis heavyweight sarilumab and Dupixent.

Frank Nestle, Sanofi’s CSO for North America, had this to say about the new pact:

This collaboration is the latest example of Sanofi’s strategic commitment to expand our drug discovery pipeline in immunology at a time when we are launching new treatments for atopic dermatitis and rheumatoid arthritis. We are particularly excited by the Ablynx technology as a leading biologics platform, enabling the development of transformative multi-targeting treatment approaches. Through external partnerships like these, combined with our internal R&D expertise, we aim to transform the treatment landscape for patients living with autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.

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Sr. Manager, Regulatory Affairs, CMC
CytomX Therapeutics San Francisco, CA
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