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Sanofi-aventis boosts oncology pipeline in deals with Oncodesign, Micromet
PARIS—French pharma sanofi-aventis has once again captured center-stage in the global cancer market with two signed oncology-focused deals aimed at boosting the French drug company's pipeline and profile.
The first, with Dijon, France-based Oncodesign, is a two-year service contract targeted toward developing exclusive, experimental models in different types of cancer. Unlike traditional models which are derived from cultured cell lines, Oncodesign is developing models based on tumor tissue taken directly from patients, enabling more customized evaluations of new therapies while remaining as close as possible to clinical reality. The financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.
The second partnership is with Bethesda, Md.-based biopharmaceutical Micromet Inc., for the licensing of Micromet's BiTE antibody against an antigen present at the surface of carcinoma cells. Under the terms of the agreement, sanofi-aventis will pay Micromet an upfront cash payment of $12 million, plus development and regulatory milestone payments of up to $241 million, as well as performance-based sales milestones of up to $224 million and royalties on worldwide product sales.
The collaborations, announced in late October, reflect sanofi-aventis' plans to position itself as a major player in the estimated $48 billion global oncology market.
"These strategic partnerships are aimed at providing access to diverse forms of external innovation into our search for new anti-tumor drugs, expand our product portfolio and support our new strategy, which is focused firmly on targeted therapies and biotherapies," says Christopher A. Viehbacher, the company's CEO.
Viehbacher has had his eye on the oncology market since coming over to sanofi-aventis from GlaxoSmithKline PLC in December 2008. In April, sanofi-aventis acquired BiPar Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company, developing novel tumor selective-approaches for the treatment of different types of cancers including triple-negative breast cancer. In May, sanofi-aventis and Exelixis, a biotechnology enterprise, announced a global license agreement for XL147 and XL765 and an exclusive collaboration for the discovery of inhibitors of phosphoinositide-3 kinase (PI3K) for the management of solid malignancies.
Christoph Lengauer, head of Oncology Research at sanofi-aventis, says Oncodesign's "specific logistics of enabling usable models to be developed with only a few grafts, was a decisive factor in pursuing the partnership."
Philippe Genne, CEO of Oncodesign, says, "To our knowledge, this contract is a first for a service company, since it is a long-term collaboration that calls for us to supply experimental models to sanofi-aventis. We are working to develop our design and validation capability so we can make ready-to-use models available to our customers and partners."
Oncodesign and sanofi-aventis worked together on the CReMEC program, which started in 2005 under the sponsorship of the Medicen Paris Region competition pole and entailed the development and characterization of experimental models of colon cancer. The work involved evaluating new therapies in the most relevant models, the ones that most resemble the clinical reality in histological, molecular and pharmacological terms. The participants in this program may also have access to models of tumors taken from patients who have already undergone treatments and/or have developed resistance to them.
"Oncodesign has been the leader of the CReMEC consortium," says Cyril Berthet, the company's associate director of scientific relations. "Through this leadership, Oncodesign has shown its capacity to manage complex projects with more than 10 partners, from academia to pharma, over a long period of time (2005-2009). Since sanofi-aventis trusts Oncodesign in such expertise, we hope to build on this new relationship and work with sanofi-aventis on other potential long-term collaborations, such as a lead optimization program or biomarker development that we now offer."
Oncodesign's programs are bound to enhance sanofi-aventis' goals and existing oncology pipeline because "compared to standard xenographs, patient-derived tumor models are more suitable to evaluate targeted therapies since they match clinical samples on histological, molecular and pharmacological aspects," Berthet says.
Oncodesign is seeking other pharma partners, and "developing our platform for integrated discovery and building strong partnerships on the lead optimization of therapeutic drugs," he says.
The sanofi-aventis-Micromet agreement stipulates that Micromet will be mainly responsible for the discovery, research and development of the BiTE antibody through the completion of Phase I clinical trials, while sanofi-aventis works on the further development and worldwide commercialization of the BiTE antibody, which has the potential to significantly expand the treatment options to cancer patients in the future, says Marc Cluzel, executive vice-president of R&D at sanofi-aventis.
Micromet CEO Christian Itin says the collaboration "further validates the BiTE antibody technology and creates the opportunity to expand the pipeline of BiTE antibodies for the treatment of solid tumors."
BiTE antibodies activate a patient's T-cells to seek out and destroy cancer cells, representing a new therapeutic approach to cancer therapy. Typically, antibodies cannot engage T-cells because they lack the appropriate receptors for binding antibodies. BiTE antibodies have been shown to bind T-cells to tumor cells, ultimately inducing a self-destruction process in the tumor cells referred to as apoptosis, or programmed cell death.
In the presence of BiTE antibodies, T-cells have serially eliminated tumor cells, Mircomet reports. Through the killing process, T-cells start to proliferate, which leads to an increased number of T-cells at the site of attack.
On Nov. 5, Micromet also announced that it signed an agreement with MedImmune LLC to buy out MedImmune's rights to blinatumomab in North America, and to terminate the collaboration agreement signed in 2003 under which MedImmune had been granted the right to develop and commericalize blinatumomab in North America. As a result of this transaction, Micromet now controls global rights to develop and commercialize blinatumomab, a novel therapeutic antibody that activates a patient's T cells to seek out and destroy lymphoma and leukemia cells.