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Sanofi Buys Nano-Antibody Biotech in $4.8B Deal

Caplacizumab vials

Caplacizumab vials (Ablynx nv)

29 January 2018. Global drug maker Sanofi is acquiring a Belgian biotechnology company developing synthetic nanoscale therapeutic antibodies in a deal valued at $4.8 billion. Sanofi’s purchase of Ablynx nv in Ghent, is the second multi-billion dollar acquisition by the Paris-based pharmaceutical company in as many weeks.

Ablynx creates treatments for rare disorders and other unmet medical needs using a technology it calls nanobodies, fragments of antibodies formulated into nanoscale biologic therapies. Nanobodies resemble antibodies found in mammals like camels and llamas with a simpler protein structure than humans. Ablynx builds on this basic structure to add therapeutic functions, such as binding to different antigen targets, or multiple sites within a single antigen. In addition, says Ablynx, nanobodies can be linked together or with other proteins or molecules.

In addition, says the company, nanobodies can bind to targets buried deep inside antigens, often hidden from most other antibody-based therapies. Their stability makes it possible for nanobodies to be formulated into drugs administered by inhalers, topic applications, eye drops, and oral drugs released into the gut. Ablynx has collaboration and licensing deals with nine drug makers in Europe, the U.S., and Japan, including Sanofi.

Ablynx’s lead product is caplacizumab, a nanobody treatment for acquired thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, or aTTP, a rare blood disorder caused by the lack of a particular enzyme for control of blood clotting. The disease occurs mainly in adults, and results in overactive blood clotting with serious threats to the brain, kidneys, and heart, as well as  widespread bruising under the skin.

Caplacizumab targets a protein called von Willebrand factor that binds to specific cells and other proteins during formation of a blood clot. Von Willebrand factor helps platelets stick together and adhere to the walls of blood vessels at the site of a wound. In a late-stage trial, patients receiving caplacizumab were more likely to achieve normal platelet counts, with two-thirds to three-quarters of participants less likely to suffer recurrences of aTTP or other blood-clotting events. Caplacizumab is currently being reviewed by regulatory authorities in Europe and expected to begin its review soon in the U.S.

Drug maker Novo Nordisk, also a collaborator with Ablynx, made an offer to buy the company in late December 2017. Earlier this month, Ablynx rejected the purchase offer, calling the bid at €28.00 ($33.66), “not in the best interests of the company and its shareholders as it fundamentally undervalues caplacizumab, the Ablynx pipeline, platform, technology, people, and know how. ”

Under the agreement announced today, Sanofi is purchasing Ablynx shares for €45.00 ($55.59) a share, or €3.9 billion ($4.8 billion) total. Sanofi’s CEO Olivier Brandicourt says in a joint statement the acquisition is important for “expanding our late-stage pipeline and strengthening our platform for growth in rare blood disorders.”

This deal is the second multi-billion dollar acquisition for Sanofi in as many weeks. On 22 January, Sanofi announced its purchase of Bioverativ Inc. in Waltham, Massachusetts, a developer of biologics to treat hemophilia and other rare blood disorders for $11.6 billion. As reported in Science & Enterprise, Bioverativ  has two biologic therapies already approved to treat hemophilia A and B.

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