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Sanofi to boost rare blood disease pipeline with Ablynx acquisition

Sanofi will purchase the Belgian biologics company for $4.8 billion

by Ryan Cross
February 5, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 6

A graphic illustrating the surface of the caplacizumab antibody.
Credit: Ablynx
Caplacizumab could be Ablynx's first nanobody to be approved this year. It treats a rare blood clotting disorder called acquired thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura.

The French pharma giant Sanofi announced last week that it will buy the Belgium-based antibody drug developer Ablynx for $4.8 billion in cash. The deal will further bolster Sanofi’s rare blood disease portfolio and pipeline and gives it access to Ablynx’s small-sized antibodies, called nanobodies.

In striking a deal for Ablynx, Sanofi outbid the Danish drug company Novo Nordisk, which offered $3.1 billion for Ablynx three weeks ago. Novo’s chief financial officer, Jesper Brandgaard, told Reuters that he could not justify paying the higher price.

On Jan. 22, Sanofi also said it would spend $11.6 billion to acquire the rare blood disease company Bioverativ, which is Biogen’s former hemophilia business.

Sanofi emphasized that the long-term value lies in Ablynx’s nanobodies. Normal antibodies are composed of two main segments, a heavy chain and light chain. Nanobodies are heavy-chain-only antibodies that are derived from camels and llamas. The end result is a smaller-than-normal drug that can be delivered more easily.

The Ablynx compound most likely to be approved first, potentially this year, is caplacizumab, a nanobody for a rare autoimmune blood clotting disorder called acquired thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (aTTP). Caplacizumab blocks Von Willebrand factor, a blood-clotting glycoprotein that strings platelets together.

In people with aTTP, an enzyme that normally chops up Von Willebrand factor is inactive. As a result, platelet clumping can run amok and cause deadly clots.

In a Phase III clinical study of people with the disease, caplacizumab improved platelet levels, lowered risk of aTTP-related death or recurrence, and may have protected against organ damage.

European drug authorities will review the drug this year. The drug will be submitted to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration later this year.

Given the estimated 7,500 cases of aTPP in North America, Europe, and Japan each year, Ablynx says annual sales of the drug could reach nearly $1.5 billion.

Ablynx’s second main program is an inhalable nanobody that targets respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Overall, eight of the firm’s nanobodies are in clinical trials. It has over 30 active collaborations with firms such as Abbvie, Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck & Co., Novartis, and Novo.



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