* Ablynx CEO expects development deals in emerging markets
* Says has seen interest from South Korea after deals in China
* Belgium is a hub for biotech firms due to favourable tax regime
By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Belgian biotech company Ablynx is hopeful of finding partners to develop its therapies in emerging markets next year, its chief executive told Reuters on Thursday.
Belgium’s biotech industry has expanded in the past decade because of tax breaks covering patent income and research workers’ salaries, and a string of companies have listed on the Brussels stock exchange.
Ablynx, a specialist in nanobodies - antibody-derived proteins targeting disease - has had a hectic 2013, notably scoring a global licensing agreement with AbbVie in inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The company has also increased its “discovery partnerships” with large pharmaceutical groups looking for possible treatments for particular ailments.
Established as a spin-off of the Free University of Brussels and the life sciences institute VIB in 2001, Ablynx has a large portfolio of experimental drugs, none of which have yet reached the market.
The loss-making firm, which has a market capitalisation of about 350 million euros ($475.10 million), makes its revenues through development deals with large pharmaceutical groups such as Merck Serono, Abbvie and Boehringer Ingelheim.
“I think next year it’s more likely you’ll see emerging markets (development) partnerships, then maybe one or two discovery partnerships,” Chief Executive Edwin Moses said.
Nanobodies, typically a 10th the size of an antibody, can target the causes or symptoms of diseases and disorders. They can penetrate further and be manipulated more than an antibody.
They can be derived from camels, llamas and alpacas and two species of shark. Ablynx uses llamas.
Last month, Ablynx granted a licence to Chinese company Eddingpharm to sell its nanobody treating bone disorders such as osteoporosis in China, which would give it royalties of up to 20 percent of future sales.
Moses said the deal had triggered interest from other Asian countries, including South Korea.
Ablynx is looking towards China too for its anti-TNF drug ozoralizumab, which could treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and has reached the Phase II trial stage.
This is because there are five existing anti-TNF drugs, including AbbVie’s Humira, in developed markets.
“We are looking at the emerging markets where the competition is less well-entrenched. It’s more likely that if we get a partner here it will be in somewhere like China,” said Moses.
China offers potential to Ablynx because regulations there dictate that new entrants have to start back with Phase I trials with Chinese patients, even if they have approval elsewhere. “That’s why in this case we are not so far behind the competition because they’re having to develop from scratch in China,” the chief executive said.
“I think you’ll see an increasing demand from emerging markets as they become more affluent for these newer drugs as they become available,” he added.
One of Ablynx’s more advanced therapies, to treat RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) infections, which typically affect children, would most likely have to wait for a partner until 2015, when trial data should be due.
Moses said he expected the company’s first drug to enter the market around 2018.
Ablynx has been loss-making since it listed its shares on the stock market in 2007. It had revenues of 26.7 million euros in 2012, a 22 percent increase on the year before. Its net loss fell to 28.5 million euros from 43.9 million in 2011. ($1 = 0.7367 euros) (Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Pravin Char)