Sanofi and Regeneron play catch-up in immunotherapy with $1bn alliance

In an attempt to catch up with leaders in the red-hot field of cancer immunotherapy, Sanofi and Regeneron have announced a major new research partnership.

Sanofi is to make a huge $2.18 billion investment in the collaboration with Regeneron, buying into the US firm’s PD-1 inhibitor candidate, currently in phase I.

The deal includes a $640 million upfront payment to Regeneron, and a joint investment of $1 billion from the two companies into the development programme.

The size of the deal reflects the premium put on PD-1 inhibitor drugs, a field led by Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo and Merck’s Keytruda, both now approved for their first indications in the US and Europe.

Other firms such as Roche and AstraZeneca have their own PD-1/PD-L1 candidates in late stage trials, which means Sanofi and Regeneron have a lot of catching up to do.

The new collaboration builds on a long-standing alliance between the two companies, which has just come to fruition with last week’s FDA approval of new cholesterol drug, Praluent. The firms also co-developed and co-market bowel cancer treatment Zaltrap (aflibercept).

“The Sanofi-Regeneron Alliance has demonstrated its ability to translate cutting-edge science into groundbreaking medicines for patients with serious needs,” said Elias Zerhouni, MD, president, Global R&D, Sanofi. “With more than eight years of successful collaboration between us, I am confident in our ability to advance these novel programmes.”

In addition to the PD-1 candidate REGN2810, the firms will work together on a range of innovative preclinical monoclonal antibodies and new bi-specific antibodies. The latter are a variation of standard antibody therapeutics, in which two distinct targets within the body can be bound by the same molecule, usually the cancer cell and an immune cell.

Regeneron says its proprietary ‘novel and flexible’ manufacturing platform will allow efficient production of bi-specific antibodies that are otherwise similar to natural antibodies. It will hope that these ‘next generation’ antibodies could help it leapfrog other players in the immunotherapy field.

Beyond PD-1, other targets in preclinical development include antibodies to lymphocyte-activation gene 3 (LAG3) and glucocorticoid-induced tumour-necrosis-factor-receptor-related protein (GITR) and a programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) inhibitor.

Finally, the partners will also develop bi-specific antibodies to target haematologic and solid cancers, either as mono therapies or in combination regimens with other immune modulating treatments.

The collaboration will initially last at least five years, which should be long enough to bring the first molecule to market. The agreement does not include Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CAR or CAR-T) drugs, another area of great potential in cancer.

The deal is just the latest in a string of announcements in recent weeks. Last month Celgene agreed a $1 billion deal with Juno Therapeutics. Then earlier this month, UK biotech Immunocore raised $320 million in the biggest private fund-raising round ever for a European life sciences company.

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