Belgium's Ablynx (ABLX.BR), which specialises in ultra-small drugs derived from llamas, could see its first product on the market in 2013, its chief executive said in an interview.
Ablynx specialises in nanobodies -- touted as the next generation in antibody treatment -- which are developed from the antibodies in llamas. They have the potential to enable drugs to get to diseases that are too small for traditional antibodies to reach.
One of its lead drugs, being developed in partnership with U.S. drugs giant Pfizer (PFE.N), which inherited it when it took over Wyeth last year, is currently in Phase II trials and could become its first commercialised product.
"The earliest we think it could be on the market is 2013, that's a tangible distance away," Chief Executive Edwin Moses told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday at the company's headquarters in Ghent.
Pfizer is hoping it will be able to use the new nanobody drug to replace its arthritis medicine Enbrel -- which made almost $1 billion in the third quarter of 2008 [ID:nN21437632] -- Moses said.
The company also has partnerships with Merck (MRCG.DE), Boehringer Ingelheim and Novartis (NOVN.VX).
In a twist of nature, llamas have evolved to produce extra small antibodies, which are in turn used to make nanobodies. They are stable enough to be inhaled or inserted under the skin, setting Ablynx' technology apart from rivals like GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK.L) Domantis, Moses said.
Nanobodies are being tested on animals for Alzheimer's disease and they are currently in mid-size human trials for arthritis and thrombosis.
They also cost about a third of the price of developing traditional antibodies, Moses said.
"We take two or three llamas, give them an injection and go away on holiday (and create) what might have taken 20 medical chemists a year to come up with," said Moses. ($1=.7040 Euro) (Editing by Karen Foster)