The Ghent-based biotechnology company, which listed on Euronext Brussels in November 2007, said that upon signing of the agreement it would receive a 6.5 million euro initial payment and a 2 million euro fee for research funding.
Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, will gain exclusive rights to nanobodies directed towards a voltage-gated ion channel with the option to develop a nanobody to a second target.
Disruption of ion channels, which regulate the flow of ions across the membranes of cells, are involved in a wide range of conditions including neurological disorders, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and arrhythmia.
In 2011, sales of the top 20 best-selling ion channel drugs amounted to nearly $14 billion, but there are no approved antibody-based drugs that target ion channels, Ablynx said in a statement.
The protein fragments, or nanobodies, made by Ablynx scientists are one-tenth the size of normal antibodies, which means they may reach new targets in the body and could potentially be administered orally rather than by injection.
Ablynx already has partnerships with Merck Serono, Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis NOVX.VN and Pfizer (PFE.N). ($1 = 0.7749 euros)
Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop