Sanofi pulls the plug on 13 clinical programs, ramps up M&A efforts

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 an oncology-focused company in California.

Amy Swinderman
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 an oncology-focused company in California.

Reporting strong sales, a significant boost to its generics business and about a 16 percent increase in its quarterly profits, the French drugmaker said 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.

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 bolstered its generics business with the acquisitions of Mexican generics manufacturer Kendrick, and Brazil's top generics drugmaker Medley (see "An eye for the deal," DDN May 2009).

Along with its R&D makeover announcement, Sanofi said it will spend up to $500 million to acquire BiPar Sciences Inc., a clinical stage drug development company pioneering novel tumor-selective therapies designed to address urgent unmet needs of cancer patients based in Brisbane, Calif.

Viehbacher, who has openly discussed Sanofi'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 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.'"

Sanofi's shares rose 1.5 percent on the news, a sign of hope from investors over the company's future profits.

Amy Swinderman

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