Sanofi-aventis to acquire BiPar Sciences in a deal worth up to $500 million

Acquisition expected to add to oncology portfolio, late-stage drug programs

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PARIS—Amidst its report of a good first-quarter performance, sanofi-aventis announced late last month a dramatic makeover of its R&D pipeline, including the abandonment of several late-stage drug programs, and continued its recent acquisition streak with the purchase of BiPar Sciences Inc., an oncology-focused company in California.

Under the terms of the agreement, sanofi-aventis will make an undisclosed initial payment upon closing of the transaction. According to sanofi-aventis, the purchase price of the acquisition will depend on the achievement of milestone payments related to the development of BSI-201, BiPar's lead product candidate. The total amount of all payments could reach $500 million. The last payment is expected in 2011. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter pending regulatory approvals.

The news came during a recent acquisition streak by the French pharma as it faces generic competition. During the first quarter, sanofi-aventis completed its offer on Zentiva, which it said will provide a platform for growth in branded generics in Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey and Russia. Zentiva was fully consolidated by sanofi-aventis by March 31.

In addition to Zentiva, sanofi-aventis bolstered its generics business with the acquisitions of Mexican generics manufacturer Kendrick, and Brazil's top generics drugmaker Medley.

Philippe Goupit, vice president of corporate licenses at sanofi-aventis, said the BiPar acquisition demonstrates sanofi-aventis' commitment to advancing innovative cancer treatments and focus on addressing unmet clinical needs in oncology. BSI-201, a potential first-in-class Poly ADP-Ribose Polymerase (PARP) inhibitor, is currently being studied in Phase II clinical trials in metastatic, triple-negative breast cancer, ovarian cancer and other malignancies. In addition to BSI-201, BiPar also has two additional compounds in preclinical development, BSI-401, a follow-on PARP inhibitor candidate being investigated as an oral therapy for pancreatic cancer, and BSI-302, a novel anti-tubulin agent that targets cancer cells based on the role of thyroid hormones in cell proliferation and death.

"BSI-201 has the potential to become a platform therapy in oncology," Goupit says. "We have talented people in our oncology research and development units who are ready to contribute to the exploration and full potential of new and innovative products such as BSI-201. The intent is to maintain within Bipar the pionneering spirit of a small and highly specialized biotech company, and we will find organizational solutions to achieve this objective."

Whether sanofi-aventis continues to snatch up small- and mid-sized biotechs as consolidation in the industry continues remains unclear. CEO Chris Viehbacher, who has openly discussed the company's ramped-up M&A strategy since his appointment in December, told reporters and investors that he remains open for all deal sizes, adding his team looked at more than 70 projects in the first quarter.

"We are looking ... at all sizes of acquisitions," he said. "I don't think I'm changing my strategy. We don't start by saying, 'what's the price tag?' but, 'what businesses are most attractive, the most interesting.'"

BiPar Sciences did not respond to interview requests. Dr. Hoyoung Huh, BiPar president and CEO, said in a statement that the acquisition "illustrates our strong commitment to oncology to provide patients, physicians and public health stakeholders with breakthrough medicines addressing unmet medical needs."

Sanofi-aventis pulls the plug on 13 clinical programs

PARIS—Reporting strong sales, a significant boost to its generics business and about a 16 percent increase in its quarterly profits, sanofi-aventis said last month it is retooling its R&D efforts to focus on the most promising projects and the acquisition of external R&D alliances.

Five months into his tenure as sanofi's CEO, Chris Viehbacher confirmed 2009 guidance and told reporters and investors that the company is shifting its R&D dollars to focus on its best candidates.

"The bar has really been raised out there in the marketplace in terms of the regulators and payers saying your medicine has to be better than we already have," Viehbacher told reporters.

Sanofi said it is abandoning four Phase III drugs, including the anti-depressant saredutant and the high-cholesterol treatment AVE5530, which both failed to demonstrate sufficient efficacy in clinical studies. Additionally, the company has also handed the rights to Trovax, a cancer vaccine in Phase III, back to its development partner Oxford Biomedica along with a payment settlement of $16.5 million. Trials of the vaccine Unifive have been stopped and those resources reallocated to Hexaxim.

Sanofi also abandoned development of the Phase II drugs AVE0657 in sleep apnea, SSR180575 in diabetic polyneuropathy, AVE1642 in oncology and the melanoma vaccine, as well as six Phase I projects.

In addition, sanofi also said it will decide in the next few months whether or not to continue developing four products—AVE1625, xaliprodene, idrabiotaparinux and West Nile virus vaccine—primarily on the basis of results from clinical trials currently underway.

Following the review, sanofi's portfolio now comprises 51 projects in clinical development, of which 21 are either in Phase III or have been submitted for regulatory approval. Vaccines represent 35 percent of the total, other biological products 14 percent and external collaborations 27 percent.

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