Sanofi May Seek Other Tie-Ups to Grow in Diabetes, Zerhouni Says

Jun 16, 2014 9:35 am ET

June 15 (Bloomberg) -- A day after Sanofi announced a diabetes alliance with Medtronic Inc., its research chief said the Paris-based drugmaker may seek other partnerships to expand in one of the fastest-growing medical conditions.

“We are open-minded” on other possible partnerships or acquisitions in diabetes, said Elias Zerhouni, Sanofi’s head of research and development, in a telephone interview. “We want to absolutely excel in the injectable space and I think that’s what we are accomplishing, but that is still going to be half of the market. We will be opportunistic.”

Sanofi, which makes the top-selling insulin Lantus, and Medtronic, the biggest maker of heart-rhythm devices, yesterday said they’ll work together to develop combinations of diabetes medicines and devices, and seek technology-based services to simplify insulin use and improve treatment compliance.

Lantus’s patent is due to expire next year, while rivals such as Novo Nordisk A/S and Eli Lilly & Co. have a wider product offering in their pipeline. As a result, Sanofi is looking at emerging classes of diabetes drugs, and will either develop new products in-house or seek them outside the company, Zerhouni said. So-called SGLT2 and DPP4 inhibitors are among the new kinds of drugs Sanofi doesn’t now have in its pipeline.

“We have to evolve from an insulin company to a diabetes company, which means you have to provide an integrated solution,” Zerhouni said from San Francisco, where he is attending the American Diabetes Association annual meeting. “The exact combination of what integrated solution is is not clear to me, the guidelines are evolving all around the world. There are several emerging classes, clearly we look at all of them.”

Critical Mass

While other pharmaceutical companies have joined forces to gain critical mass in diabetes, a market worth about $40 billion, large-scale partnerships with device makers such as Medtronic are rarer. Eli Lilly struck a deal in 2011 with Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH on diabetes drugs.

Sanofi is one step closer to replacing Lantus, which last year amassed 5.72 billion euros ($7.7 billion) in sales, Zerhouni said during the interview. Its experimental insulin Toujeo controlled diabetes better than Lantus in three tests, the French company said yesterday. In an analysis of the trials, patients who used Toujeo, also known as U300, had 31 percent fewer low blood-sugar incidents compared with those on Lantus, Sanofi said.

The analysis included data from trials of Toujeo dubbed Edition 1, 2 and 3 involving almost 2,500 people with type 2 diabetes over six months. Results from Edition 1 and 2 had been released previously. In Edition 3, patients who took Toujeo had similar blood-sugar control as those receiving Lantus after six months, and the Toujeo group had 24 percent fewer drops in blood sugar at night than the Lantus group.

‘Gold Standard’

“This is going to be the new gold standard,” Zerhouni said about Toujeo. “It’s safer, you can titrate the patients much better, much faster, and keep them, as we’ve shown, in the range of lower hypoglycemic events, day or night.”

Both Toujeo and Lantus are a type of insulin called glargine that’s designed to be longer-acting than other forms of the hormone. To keep the disease under control, diabetics must closely track their sugar intake and often need multiple insulin shots a day to survive. The injections must be carefully dosed to avoid lowering blood sugar excessively.

Diabetes kills one person every six seconds and afflicts 382 million people worldwide, according to the International Diabetes Federation. Some diabetics, suffering from Type 1 diabetes, have a lifelong inability to produce the insulin their body needs to convert blood sugar into energy. The Type 2 variant tends to strike later in life, brought on by obesity and sedentary lifestyles, as people become resistant to the insulin their own body produces.

--With assistance from Simeon Bennett in Geneva.