Ablynx’s Success Story: The Past, Present and Future




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Video title: Ablynx’s Success Story: The Past, Present and Future
Released on: February 01, 2008. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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Fintan Walton talks to Edwin Moses, CEO of Ablynx, about the success that the company has enjoyed since its inception, and his plans for it going forward. Edwin talks about the importance of location in relation to the financing environment, and the difference in the ease of raising cash through an IPO depending upon your location. He also expands upon Ablynx’s commercial strategy in terms of partnering with big pharma, acquiring other technologies, targets and products, and Ablynx’s goal of becoming a fully integrated, independent pharmaceutical company in its own right.
Origins of Ablynx and differences in running a biotech company in 1990's and 2000's.
Fintan Walton:
Welcome to PharmaVentures Business Review brought to you by PharmaTelevision the world's first on demand pharmaceutical television channel. We are here in San Francisco recording a series of interviews at the annual JP Morgan Conference. This conference was originally run by the famous Hambrecht and Quist Bank and is one of the oldest events in biotechnology. Today thousands to send from around the US but also from around the world into San Francisco to do financial deals and recently it's also become an important partnering event. I hope you'll enjoy the series of interviews we've done from some of the key companies attending this conference. Hello and welcome to PharmaVentures Business Review here in San Francisco. On this show I've Edwin Moses, who is Chairman and CEO of Ablynx based in Belgium, welcome to the show.
Edwin Moses:
Thank you.
Fintan Walton:
Edwin Moses, people will know you as the CEO and founder of Oxford Asymmetry, you are more or less a veteran in running biotech companies in Europe, so you've had a lot of experience over the last 15-years at least in taking a leadership role in these sort of companies, so why go for it for a second time with Ablynx ?
Edwin Moses:
I think it's an easy question to answer because I was involved in a lot of biotech companies over the last 15-years and when I got involved in Ablynx as a Chairman and Non-Executive I got to know the company well on the technology and it was probably the most exciting company I have ever come across so it was an opportunity I just couldn't say no to it.
Fintan Walton:
You genuinely mean that?
Edwin Moses:
Yes absolutely genuinely mean that. I think it's always a combination of technology, the people in the company actually the geography where the company is based its investor base and the potential that you can see when you added all those up it was the best I've seen.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Now as I said earlier you were the CEO of Oxford Asymmetry right up to the point when it was sold obviously to Evotec which is German based company, what is the difference between trying to run a company in the 1990's to one here in the 2000's?
Edwin Moses:
I think one of the big difference is between the companies that Oxford Asymmetry is a profitable company it was a service based company although it took upsize in terms of milestones and royalties, where as Ablynx is a classic biotechnology company which is a loss making company and then will be loss making for a number of years having said that we do generate our own revenues.
Fintan Walton:
But clearly yes there are differences between those sort of biotech companies but there are still the financing issues that companies have to face in both of those decades would you prefer to be in the 1990's or the 2000's?
Edwin Moses:
I am always pleased to be where I am, I think in the 1990's the environment was more favorable for biotechnology when in the UK when we launched Oxford Asymmetry then so in 1998 when we floated the company there was a very positive financing environment, having said that effect to 2007 when we just floated Ablynx that positive environment existed in Belgium so I just moved to different country and found the same environment.
Advantages of having Belgium as location.
Fintan Walton:
Well it comes back to Ablynx 's location in Belgium obviously the founder of Ablynx and the original technology comes out of the Belgium universities, but why continue to stay in Belgium? Has that been an advantage to you?
Edwin Moses:
Yes I think it's something that every company constantly considers its location and Belgium is a small country and so we've always considered whether Ablynx to stay there for the moment, we've managed to hire all the people that were required, attract all the international staff that we possibly want and that's a key issue for us. If you look at the executive management team it comprises five different nationalities, I don't think you will see there around in any other biotechnology company, also two women and three men. So I think we've really looked for diversity Belgium thrives on diversity of companies always had to in its history and we take advantage of that.
Importance of location in relation to the financing environment.
Fintan Walton:
Right and going back to the financing of company like Ablynx , you've just recently done an IPO you've successfully raised over 85 million Euros, that would have been difficult for most companies to do elsewhere within Europe was it because this of Euronext that you were able to do that?
Edwin Moses:
I think it's definitely because of Euronext and because of the local momentum that we gained from the tremendous interest in the retail market in Belgium. I think you are exactly right I think it would have been challenging for us to do that IPO in out of the UK or the US or another country in the Europe. Belgium has a very, very strong and sophisticated retail investment market and it's very helpful when you forming an IPO that you have that sort of momentum over 10% subscribed to our IPO from the retail market.
Fintan Walton:
If you weren't an antibody based company would you've been able to do this raise the same amount of money in Belgium?
Edwin Moses:
I think if you are in if you mean another biotechnology company then I think most certainly if you have an attractive story you can communicate effectively to the layman as well as the most sophisticated science individual.
Uniqueness of Ablynx 's Nanobodies technology.
Fintan Walton:
So again Ablynx is unique because of its nanobodies technology which is based in llama, camel (camelidae) based antibodies, everybody likes to talk about their technology being unique but what is truly unique about your technology?
Edwin Moses:
The technology was originally discovered in Brussels University as you said back in the 1990's and the core of it is that they discovered the camelidae group of animals camels, llamas, alpacas as all those producing the classic antibodies that you and I do also produce a much smaller heavy chain only antibody. It's on that basis of that discovery that whole ramping is founded so the way to think about it is that the camels produce antibodies which are smaller than classic antibodies easier to produce we can manufacture them in e.coli bacteria or yeast they are much more stable but they have all the good properties of classic antibodies in terms of specificity and affinity, so these are molecules that are found nowhere else up the camelidae family in two species of child.
The big deal with Wyeth.
Fintan Walton:
The other important thing you've done is to do a deal with number of biotech companies, but recently did a deal with Wyeth [PharmaDeals ID = 25709] which was quite a big deal and again you know what is your position there? How do you differentiate yourselves from other antibody based companies? You've mentioned the technology but why would a company like Wyeth spend so much money getting access to your technology?
Edwin Moses:
I think our commercial strategy is key, we are not just a company that wants to do research we want to partner with other companies who can bring something towards the table. I think the Wyeth example is a very good one, we've already developed the preclinical package of nanobodies to TNF-alpha products targets were just in rheumatoid arthritis. And what we wanted to do we recognized that was a commercially complex and technically complex market.
Fintan Walton:
Challenging one?
Edwin Moses:
Absolutely a three biological's already on the market so the way to actually validate whether this package had any real value is to go to the top companies in the area and if you look at Wyeth who market Enbrel the leading drug in this area they were a real challenge to take it to them show what we had and say do you think this could be the next Enbrel. And you can see by the fact that the deal that they've done with us and this is a $212 million deal they were extremely enthusiastic about the potential nanobodies for TNF-alpha going forward.
Nature of collaborations with Novartis and Boehringer.
Fintan Walton:
So with the other collaborations that you have you've got deals with Novartis [PharmaDeals ID = 23162] and Boehringer Ingelheim and so forth are they have a different nature or they just gaining access mainly to the technology itself?
Edwin Moses:
I think that they are different nature, if you take Wyeth as a preclinical package if you take the most recent deal that we did with Boehringer [PharmaDeals ID = 26205] [PharmaDeals ID = 28266] which was a 1.3 billion Euro deal which is one of the second largest deal over the last two-years in biotech this of 10 different programs over range of different target areas, Boehringer really see the opportunity to explore and push the capabilities of nanobodies do things that other antibodies or other biological's based products can't do. So it's a very wide ranging deal. The key for us in all these commercial deals is to meet the needs of our partner provide something they really want but at the same time not give away too much of our assets in order to maintain our strategy or flexibility going forward and that's what we believe we've achieved.
Development strategy with lead compound ALX-0081.
Fintan Walton:
And your lead compound is ALX-0081 you are taking that forward yourselves, why?
Edwin Moses:
I think it's very important for the company's maturing and our goal to become a fully integrated pharmaceutical company to develop the experience and developing our own products, so ALX-0081 in many ways is an ideal product, it has applications in ACS which is a blockbuster application and we plan to partner that after Phase IIA trails. There is another example of an orphan indication also target by ALX-0081 something called TTP a very rare disease and that is something we would quite feasibly market the product for ourselves very limited number of patients and then limited number of hospitals around Europe and United States. So this gives us chance to take a go to all to major indications with the partner as well as developing ourselves on sales activity for an orphan indication.
Ablynx 's goal and challenges of becoming a fully integrated, independent pharmaceutical company.
Fintan Walton:
You've mentioned the aspiration of becoming a fully integrated pharmaceutical company ultimately that's a big ambition for a biotech company and how realistic is that?
Edwin Moses:
I think ambition is the major change in the company over the last 18 to 24 months, we've really wanted to instill in the company a belief that we have many of the elements in place to become a truly major biotechnology company, we look from the UK across the United States the companies like Amgen and Genentech who were properly funded, who were properly ambitious and then made the tremendous success in themselves, so those are sort of companies we take as our heroes and we think they did it and why couldn't we do, we have every reason what we believe we could.
Fintan Walton:
But I suppose the big challenge that people see is that a lot of antibody based companies are now been acquired or significant stakes have been taken in those companies by major pharma companies, is it going to be a challenge to remain fully to become a fully integrated pharmaceutical company that remains independent?
Edwin Moses:
I think what you mean is are there other companies who might actually want to acquire us? I think the answer is quite possibly yes. I think that when you look at some of the examples you gave of the companies who've been acquired or major stakes taken they tended to run out of option in terms of financing they may well have to make selling the sales or strike deals before they are absolutely ready, one of the things we've been very determined over the last couple of years is provide ourselves and our shareholders with options. Our ability to go carry out an IPO in Belgium was something that was very, very important to us. We also carried out that Boehringer deal which is also a financing deal as well would provide us funds to take the company forward. So we wanted to pursue multiple financing options to keep our flexibility as much as we possibly can.
The differences in raising cash through IPO depending upon location.
Fintan Walton:
Just going back to the Euronext as a place to IPO, because we've had a number of successes on Euronext in the past as you know from your own experiences in the UK people tended to go to the stock exchange or at least aim to do the floatation's, if you are to provide advice and you do have sat on the number of boards as well between Oxford Asymmetry and Ablynx and I think you still do today, what advice would you give them in terms of where to IPO right now?
Edwin Moses:
I think it's always difficult to IPO outside your home market. I think wherever you are based if there is a stock exchange there that is a functioning stock exchange then I think it's a difficult story to go elsewhere, but I think it may come to the point where UK companies for example look across the Euronext and consider whether with the liquidity and the attitude of that market to biotechnology companies whether it's not a better home for some of them than their home markets, for us it was easy, for us Belgium we were in, Euronext was there it was an obvious place for us to go.
Fintan Walton:
But I would say that Ablynx would not have been able to do the same thing in the UK?
Edwin Moses:
It would have been a much greater challenge for us there is no question with that.
Ablynx 's commercial strategy in terms of partnering with big pharma, acquiring other technologies, targets and products.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So back to Ablynx and the strategy going forward you said you want to remain independent you've got a significant amount of funds now raised just 85 million Euros which is a good chunk of money to keep you going for several years hopefully and to take programs into clinic on an expensive phase obviously, do you intend to stick to Ablynx been in on its own technology or would you yourselves be interested in going out there and acquiring other companies?
Edwin Moses:
I think in terms of cash we are very well placed, I think with the cash that we had which is over 50 million that means that we have something like 125 million Euros in cash available to us at the moment. I think that we don't set out as a goal of management remaining independent we set a goal to create the maximum shareholder value and we believe for the moment that means that independence is right while we continue to exploit and demonstrate the technology. I think that in terms of acquiring other products, technologies, targets absolutely we are looking at doing that. I think it's important for us now and its important stage of the company to look further companies who have things that we are interested in. There was a time when the thing that we were most interested in was cash because of our financing needs that's not at the top of our requirement now it's always nice to have, but now we are looking for proprietary targets, delivery technologies people with expertise in certain disease areas which can allow us to advance nanobodies into the clinic more quickly then we could on our own.
Fintan Walton:
Nanobodies themselves if you do fail and this you know that's a common activity in our industry is that a death nail for nanobodies or is it just going to just a death nail for that particular product?
Edwin Moses:
I think it's a good question, I think it all depends upon why it fails. I think that it was very, very important for us to test nanobodies in humans which we did beginning of April in 2007 we completed the study last year, because that for the first time was when these molecules were applied to humans and we saw no adverse events, we saw no sign of immunogenicity that doesn't mean we won't have any problems with taking products forward, but it gave us a lot of confidence that it wasn't the generic problem with the use of nanobodies, we believed it anyway all the animal trials we've done all the predictive where we've done had given us that confidence. But it's actually doing the experiment is important we've done that now, so I think that was one of the reasons that we could IPO we gave that confidence to ourselves and our investors.
Fintan Walton:
Edwin Moses, thanks a lot for coming along on the show to tell us all about Ablynx and we look forward to seeing the developments over the next year. Thank you very much indeed Edwin Moses.
Edwin Moses:
Thank you.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Edwin Moses
CEO
Edwin Moses began his commercial career at Amersham International, Enzymatix and Raggio-Italgene. Then, as CEO from 1993 to 2001, and, later, as Chairman, he was responsible for the growth of Oxford Asymmetry through a series of venture rounds, cumulating in a flotation on the London Stock Exchange in 1998, at a value of €175 M (£120 M, US$205); this was followed by the sale of the company to Evotec Biosystems in 2000 for € 460 M (£316 M, US$474.7 M). Over the past 5 years Edwin Moses has sat on the Board (primarily as Chairman) of over 15 European life sciences companies. Edwin Moses has been Chairman of Ablynx since 2004, and, in March 2006, he became Ablynx 's CEO.
PharmaVentures
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialisation.
Ablynx
Ablynx is a biopharmaceutical company engaged in the discovery and development of Nanobodies, a novel class of therapeutic proteins based on single-domain antibody fragments, for the treatment of a range of serious and life-threatening human diseases. The company is developing a portfolio of Nanobody based therapeutic programmes in a number of major disease areas, including inflammation, thrombosis, oncology and Alzheimer's disease. Ablynx has generated nanobodies against more than 100 different disease targets, and has characterized potent antagonists in vitro against 20 different targets.