Sanofi Plots Cancer Comeback With First New Drug in Years

(Bloomberg) -- Sanofi was a spectator during the last wave of cancer breakthroughs. The French drugmaker is counting on its first new tumor drug in seven years to help make it a contender in the next one.

A treatment Sanofi is developing with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. could go on sale by the end of the year, said Joanne Lager, head of oncology development at the Paris-based company. The immunotherapy known as cemiplimab is aimed at a form of skin cancer, but could eventually be a candidate for one of the deadliest forms of the disease: lung tumors.

Sanofi still sees an opportunity in that field even as Merck & Co.’s Keytruda pulls ahead, Lager said in an interview in Paris. The French drugmaker on Wednesday acknowledged that it missed out on the first tide of revolutionary new medicines, falling behind others such as Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Roche Holding AG and AstraZeneca Plc in the booming class of cancer drugs that harness the immune system.

“We’re not expecting to be able to beat Keytruda, but we think there are a lot of patients with lung cancer and they deserve to have more than one option,” she said. “We think there’s room for more than one to play in that space.”

Two Backbones

The French drugmaker is committed to rebuilding its position with medicines such as cemiplimab -- like Keytruda, an inhibitor of the PD-1 protein -- and the anti-CD38 monoclonal antibody isatuximab, Jorge Insuasty, global head of development, told reporters in Paris earlier. Sales of former blockbusters have faded due to expiring patents. Zaltrap, approved in the U.S. in 2012 for colorectal cancer, was the last oncology drug the company brought to market.

Sanofi is targeting a regulatory filing for isatuximab this year or early next year to treat multiple myeloma, a cancer of white blood cells, Lager said. Sanofi sees its first immunotherapies acting as a backbone to a broader program with the next stage of development focusing on combinations, Insuasty said. Sanofi also said it’s in the early stage of evaluating a treatment to tackle metastatic breast cancer.

The next chapter in the immunotherapy field will likely focus on overcoming resistance to checkpoint inhibitors and attacking tumors that don’t respond to those drugs yet, according to Lager.

Sanofi is open to further partnership opportunities as it expands in oncology, she said. Sanofi and Regeneron said earlier this year that they will more than double their spending on cemiplimab, now committing about $1.64 billion to developing the experimental skin and lung cancer therapy.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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