Slim Antibody Pills Are the Next Big Thing?

The power body of most people’s dreams

GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s head of biotech research is excited about a new generation of “slimline” antibody medicines that may be successors to current blockbusters such as Avastin and Rituxan.

That’s no surprise, perhaps, given Ian Tomlinson headed the next-generation antibody firm Domantis until Glaxo snapped it up for £230 million in 2006.

But the fact the world’s second-largest drugmaker has put the technology centre-stage shows how a coming wave of ultra-small antibody products – capable of working in ways impossible for conventional treatments – is gaining attention. “I think the next generation approaches have tremendous applications across the board,” Tomlinson said in an interview. “It’s potentially a big deal; the question is how big.”

Today’s monoclonal antibodies are large proteins that act as footsoldiers for the immune system. They are already the fastest-growing section of the global drugs market, with sales expected to hit $49 billion in 2013 compared with $26 billion in 2007, according to market analysis group Datamonitor.

And by the middle of the next decade, Genentech Inc and Roche AG’s cancer drug Avastin is predicted by analysts to be the biggest-selling medicine of any type in the world. But conventional antibodies, which must be injected, are limited in the parts of the body they can reach.

Next-generation antibody fragments, which are a fraction of the size, are potentially more flexible, cheaper to make and could lead to the development of drugs that are inhaled, used as eyedrops or given by mouth.

Last week, Belgium’s Ablynx NV, which produces so-called nanobodies derived from llama antibodies, signed its most lucrative deal to date with Germany’s Merck KGaA.

It was the latest in a string of alliances with Big Pharma players, including Novartis AG, Wyeth and Boehringer Ingelheim.

At the moment, the jury is out on how well the new generation of products will work, since even the most advanced are only now starting mid-stage Phase II clinical trials. “The answer is only going to come when we get the clinical data for these things in the next two years or so,” said Sam Fazeli, a biotech analyst at brokerage Piper Jaffray.

Nonetheless, Ablynx CEO Edwin Moses is convinced the ability of these smaller molecules to penetrate tissue more effectively will open many new doors in treatment. “There will be areas where we can only do as well as a whole antibody but there are certainly areas where we feel we can do better,” he said.

Via The Times