BRUSSELS, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Belgian biotech company Ablynx has signed a deal with Merck & Co worth up to 1.7 billion euros ($2.29 billion) to develop potential new treatments for cancer.
The Belgian firm, which already has a neurology partnership with Merck dating back to Oct 2012, said on Monday that it would be charged with discovering antibody-derived proteins, known as nanobodies, to target 'immune checkpoint modulators'.
The latter regulate the body's immune response, but cancers can evade the host immune system that response since tumour cells are the patient's own. Ablynx believes its tiny nanobodies could help activate the immune system to attack cancer cells.
Under the terms of the deal, Ablynx will receive a payment of 20 million euros and up to 10.7 million euros in research funding during an initial three-year research term.
Ablynx is eligible to receive payments on reaching certain development, regulatory and commercial milestones with a potential to accrue as much as 1.7 billion euros plus royalties.
Merck will be responsible for the development, manufacture and commercialisation of any products resulting from the partnership.