AbbVie is taking the global rights on Ablynx’s ALX-61 for conditions that are well beyond our initial expectations. The strong frontloaded payment set a new landmark in the deal making of proof of concept drugs. CC at 4 (1 0700 CZK, -0,06%) CET.
AbbVie gets an option to the global rights for Ablynx’s IL-6R inhibitor. Ablynx will perform the phase II development for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) andlupus. Ablynx gets an initial upfront of $ 175m now of which a substantial part will be used to perform the clinical studies. AbbVie will be sole responsible for the phase III development, manufacturing and commercialization, but Ablynx retains the Benelux co-promotion rights. The company is eligible for certain development, regulatory and sales milestones which could go to up to $ 665m, in addition to tiered double-digit royalties on net sales.
A global license deal with a firm upfront payment, whereby Ablynx maintains control over the phase II development fits our best case scenario. We understand a first moment to lift the option could already occur by 2016. Indeed, for a development stage company like Ablynx it is very valuable to control this process as they have much shorter decision making cycles and move an asset faster through the mid stage development. Probably equally important, they will be able to communicate on the progress and the intermediate milestones being achieved. Of course, a big chunk of the upfront will be used for this phase II program (in the case of the AbbVie-Galapagos deal, around 80%), but it also shows the confidence AbbVie has in the company’s development skills. It is undisclosed how much AbbVie will pay upon licensing the program when the pre-agreed end-of-phase II criteria are met, but we expect this to be in $ 100m range.
We welcome the choice of AbbVie as partner. While we understand several big pharma groups submitted termsheets, AbbVie is one the most experienced in the field of autoimmune diseases. Its Humira, a mega-blockbuster TNF-alpha drug leads the autoimmune disease area. Thanks to Roche’s success with Actemra, IL-6 inhibitors are expected to be game changers of the autoimmune field. AbbVie does not have an IL-6 in-house, hence their interest to secure their piece of the IL-6 pie. This being said, ALX-61 will compete with two other AbbVie acquired phase II RA products ie. Galapagos’ oral JAK1 inhibitor (RA and Crohn’s, upfront $ 150m) and Biotest’s BT-061anti CD40 antibody (RA and psoriasis, upfront $ 85m). For details on the strong ALX-61p2 results and the current IL-6 space, we refer to our Ablynx company note of 13 March 2013.
The first read of the deal terms (with higher than forecasted upfront) and the choice of partner stem us very positive. The deal validates the potential of ALX-61 and Ablynx’ Nanobody platform. Such validation should attract the next level of investors and we anticipate the stock to stabilize at new highs. Pending more details on the next clinical development, we up our six-month target to € 12.5/share (from € 12), BUY reiterated.