(Updates with CEO interview, background)
By Julien Ponthus and Ben Hirschler
BRUSSELS/LONDON Oct 10 Belgium's Ablynx, which
is using llamas to develop a new class of drugs, plans to raise
funds through an initial public offering on Euronext Brussels
this year, it said on Wednesday.
Cash from the IPO, which is subject to market conditions,
will be used to develop the biotech firm's pipeline of
ultra-small antibody medicines.
Chief Executive Edwin Moses declined to comment on the size
of the new share issue but noted Ablynx was more advanced than
Domantis -- a rival -- bought by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) for 230
million pounds ($470 million) last December.
"That was obviously an acquisition. But, in terms of
development, we have already carried out the first clinical
trial of nanobodies in humans. Domantis were not in that
position when they were sold," he said in a telephone interview.
Ablynx has already raised more than 70 million euros ($98.87
million) in private funding rounds.
The Ghent-based company plans to catch a new wave in
antibody medicine by capitalising on a quirk of nature, which
means llamas and camels possess an unusual type of antibodies
that are much smaller than those in humans and other animals.
It believes "nanobodies" created from cloning llama DNA can
be used to develop drugs to treat conditions including
arthritis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
Ablynx's most advanced product, a treatment for acute
thrombosis known as ALX-0081, recently completed Phase I
clinical tests and should start mid-stage Phase II trials in
2008, Moses said.
It also has research deals on earlier-stage products with
several big drug firms, including Boehringer Ingelheim, Wyeth
WYE.N, Novartis NOVN.VX and Procter & Gamble (PG.N).
The company was established in 2001 on the back of research
at the Free University of Brussels into the unique immune system
proteins found in camel and llama blood.
The protein fragments, or nanobodies, made by its scientists
are one-tenth the size of normal antibodies, which means they
may reach new targets in the body and could potentially be given
by mouth rather than injection.
Antibody therapies have revolutionised some areas of
medicine, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, in recent
years and have become among the biggest selling medicines in the
But their use remains limited by the fact that they are very
JP Morgan and KBC will act as joint global coordinators and
bookrunners for the forthcoming IPO.
Ablynx's venture capital backers include Abingworth, Alta
Partners, Gilde, GIMV (GIMV.BR), KBC Private Equity, Privak
Biotech, Sofinnova, SR One and VIB.