Sanofi's R&D day pos­es some big chal­lenges as skep­tics cir­cle in wake of a Deng­vax­ia fi­as­co

The view from John Car­roll

To­mor­row the an­a­lysts that cov­er Sanofi $SNY will gath­er in Paris to hear the phar­ma gi­ant out­line its R&D strat­e­gy. And more than a few skep­tics from the in­vestor com­mu­ni­ty will be on hand.

Af­ter re­ly­ing on part­ners like Re­gen­eron $REGN and Al­ny­lam $AL­NY to de­liv­er the goods on in­no­va­tion and sig­nif­i­cant new progress in drug de­vel­op­ment, chief sci­en­tist Elias Zer­houni be­lieves it’s time to be­come more self-re­liant.

But that’s go­ing to be a very hard sale.

In­ter­nal­ly, the R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion has been one of the most no­to­ri­ous lag­gards in Big Phar­ma, ri­val­ing GSK in un­der­per­for­mance. Its one big suc­cess, the dengue vac­cine Deng­vax­ia, has now im­plod­ed as the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment claims it was bam­boo­zled in­to vac­ci­nat­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of chil­dren with a vac­cine that threat­ens pre­vi­ous­ly un­ex­posed sub­jects with se­vere cas­es of dengue — per­haps he­m­or­rhag­ic fever.

Now the Philip­pines wants its mon­ey back. And a prod­uct that was held up as an ex­am­ple of Sanofi’s abil­i­ty to de­vel­op block­busters has be­come a li­a­bil­i­ty of un­known pro­por­tions.

To top it off, Sanofi just days ago said it will ter­mi­nate its late-stage pro­gram for a Clostrid­i­um dif­fi­cile vac­cine af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined they were on a straight path to fail­ure.

Ru­di Van Den Eyn­de

In the mean­time, Sanofi tried and failed to de­liv­er on some sig­nif­i­cant buy­outs, out­bid by Pfiz­er for Medi­va­tion (and like­ly glad of that) and rais­ing doubts that it knows how to buy a com­pa­ny af­ter watch­ing Acte­lion go to J&J.

“Noth­ing is hap­pen­ing in terms of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and there is very lit­tle news in the pipeline. What just hap­pened with dengue is neg­a­tive and shock­ing,” Can­dri­am’s Ru­di Van Den Eyn­de told Reuters in a bleak as­sess­ment of the com­pa­ny’s per­for­mance.

Af­ter tak­ing a stab at can­cer, the phar­ma gi­ant end­ed up re­struc­tur­ing that ef­fort af­ter some key set­backs. That in­cludes fe­dra­tinib, which was re­cent­ly hand­ed back to one of the sci­en­tists who helped dis­cov­er it and is now tak­ing it back in­to late-stage de­vel­op­ment. And now Sanofi’s in-house pipeline is lim­it­ed to a few key ef­forts, in­clud­ing isat­ux­imab (SAR650984), an un­con­ju­gat­ed an­ti-CD38 an­ti­body in Phase III de­vel­op­ment for re­lapsed and re­frac­to­ry mul­ti­ple myelo­ma.

A cou­ple of years ago I sat down with Zer­houni and he told me that a com­pa­ny like Sanofi has no busi­ness buy­ing plat­form R&D ef­forts. They’d just kill it, he says, which is why he in­sist­ed to the board long ago that buy­ing Re­gen­eron was a ter­ri­ble idea.

Chris Viehbach­er

It hasn’t al­ways been a smooth path, but Sanofi now has sev­er­al part­ner­ships de­liv­er­ing on in­no­va­tion. Its rep­u­ta­tion in-house couldn’t be worse, es­pe­cial­ly af­ter for­mer CEO Chris Viehbach­er tried and failed to kick off a ma­jor re­or­ga­ni­za­tion in France af­ter the Gen­zyme ac­qui­si­tion.

Zer­houni, though, has been telling an­a­lysts that the phar­ma gi­ant’s in-house bi­o­log­ics and an­ti­body work has pro­gressed to the point that it doesn’t need Re­gen­eron for that, shift­ing to a con­cen­tra­tion on their part­ner­ship for the world’s sixth PD-1/L1 drug, due to be filed in a mat­ter of weeks or months.

With their di­a­betes fran­chise un­der the gun, Sanofi con­tin­ues to scout for ma­jor ac­qui­si­tions of the $20 bil­lion to $30 bil­lion cat­e­go­ry. In­vestors have been clam­or­ing for M&A for years, but the com­pa­ny’s ex­ec­u­tive team re­fus­es to be rushed.

Im­age: Sanofi chief sci­en­tist Elias Zer­houni

Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at with any issues.

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Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Hal Barron. GSK

GSK's Hal Bar­ron her­alds their sec­ond pos­i­tive piv­otal for cru­cial an­ti-BC­MA ther­a­py, point­ing to a push for quick OKs in a crowd­ed field

Hal Barron has his second positive round of Phase III data in hand for his anti-BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin (GSK2857916). And GSK’s research chief says the data paves the way for their drive in search of an FDA approval for treating multiple myeloma.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this drug for GSK, a cornerstone of Barron’s campaign to make a dramatic impact on the oncology market and provide some long-lost excitement for the pharma giant’s pipeline. They’re putting this BCMA program at the front of that charge — looking to lead a host of rivals all aimed at the same target.

We don’t know what the data are yet, but DREAMM-2 falls on the heels of a promising set of data delivered 5 months ago for DREAMM-1. There investigators noted that complete responses among treatment-resistant patients rose to 15% in the extra year’s worth of data to look over, with a median progression-free survival rate of 12 months, up from 7.9 months reported earlier. The median duration of response was 14.3 months.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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Why would Am­gen want to buy Alex­ion? An­a­lysts call hot­ly ru­mored takeover un­like­ly, but seize the mo­ment

A rumor that Amgen is closing in on buyout deal for Alexion has sparked a guessing game on just what kind of M&A strategy Amgen is pursuing and how much Alexion is worth.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed first lent credence to the report out of the Spanish news outlet Intereconomía, which said Amgen is bidding as much as $200 per share. While the source may be questionable, “the concept of this happening doesn’t sound too crazy to me,” he wrote.