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Diabetes development team-up
HAMBURG, Germany—Beta cells play a key role in the pathogenesis of diabetes, a condition that currently affects 387 million patients worldwide. Beta cells, which reside in islets in the pancreas, respond to elevated blood glucose levels by secreting the glucose-lowering hormone insulin. There is a great medical need for therapeutic options to restore beta cell mass and reduce or eliminate the need for insulin injections, or to prevent or reverse the decline in beta cell function.
Evotec AG and Sanofi have entered a strategic collaboration in the field of diabetes to develop a beta cell replacement therapy based on functional human beta cells derived from human stem cells. Additionally, the two companies will use human beta cells for high-throughput drug screening to identify beta cell-active small molecules or biologics.
Evotec is a drug discovery alliance and development partnership company focused on rapidly progressing innovative product approaches with leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, academics, patient advocacy groups and venture capitalists. Sanofi, a global healthcare company—touting core strengths in diabetes solutions, human vaccines, innovative drugs, consumer healthcare, emerging markets and animal health—discovers, develops and distributes therapeutic solutions focused on patients’ needs.
Both companies will contribute significant expertise, platforms and resources. The liaison will further enhance and complement Sanofi’s extensive diabetes portfolio and will extend Evotec’s metabolic disease and stem cell-based drug discovery programs.
In March, the two companies signed a five-year deal giving Sanofi a broad range of long-term drug discovery services from Evotec, including capacity and capability expansion, strategic outsourcing, offering of joint small-molecule libraries and pipeline-building initiatives, according to Zacks Investment Research. In that agreement, the companies joined forces “to develop a pipeline primarily focused on oncology, including five advanced, preclinical projects and further discovery-stage assets.” They combined their libraries to offer them to Evotec’s partners for screening, and Evotec acquired Sanofi’s scientific operations at Toulouse, France, a small-molecule discovery site with more than 200 scientists, while retaining the associated employees.
As reported in DDNews in January, the collaboration included three major strategic initiatives focused on improving innovation effectiveness in the drug discovery and preclinical development space. Evotec expected the undertaking to bolster its position as “the leading drug discovery collaboration partner to the pharma and biotech industry as well as academia.”
As Evotec Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Cord Dohrmann explains, “Evotec has been a leader pursuing highly innovative mechanisms and approaches for more than a decade and has entered more than five pharma collaborations in diabetes-related complications. Still, this strategic collaboration with Sanofi, one of the three top diabetes companies in the world, is special on multiple levels. This collaboration is based on the use of stem cell-derived human beta cells.”
Dohrmann added, “We intend to use these cells for two product development opportunities: a human beta cell-based cell therapy, and discovery and development of drugs that either protect or regenerate beta cell mass and function. Both approaches are potentially disease-modifying and will have a significant impact on how the disease is treated.”
Evotec will optimize differentiation protocols and manufacturing routes that have been predeveloped at Sanofi to produce fully functional human beta cells from stem cells, according to Dohrmann. Additionally, Evotec will generate assay platforms for the identification of a compound that protects human beta cells. At later stages, Sanofi will play an active role during drug development programs and will drive both the pharmacological and the cell therapy arms of the project toward the clinic and to the market.
The initial contract period of this collaboration is three years. The agreement includes an upfront payment of €3 million (about $3.4 million) to Evotec, as well as potential preclinical, clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones that could total more than €300 million (about $338.6 million) and significant royalties and research payments.
Dohrmann said that he believes “The use of human stem cells in drug discovery and development is on the rise and will increasingly shift the landscape from symptomatic treatments to disease-modifying therapies in diabetes.”
Dr. Philip Larsen, vice president and global head of diabetes research and translational science at Sanofi, added, “Combining Sanofi’s and Evotec’s beta cell and stem cell expertise in drug discovery and development will enable optimal exploitation of the potential of stem cell-derived human beta cells for therapy and drug screening in diabetes.”