- French drugmaker Sanofi, on a mission to improve its research standing in oncology, will partner with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to speed up early-stage testing of its experimental cancer medicines.
- The alliance will link Sanofi to MD Anderson for five years, combining the pharmaceutical company's cancer drug pipeline with the hospital's extensive clinical trials network. MD Anderson is one of the top medical centers in the U.S., and does significant cancer research of its own as well.
- Drugmakers often turn to collaborations with academic institutions to bolster their own research, and MD Anderson is a frequent partner with industry. The Sanofi alliance appears broader than others inked by the institution, with planned trials spanning a "wide array of tumor types" and involving different types of drugs.
Together, Sanofi and MD Anderson aim to better understand why cancer medicines work for some patients but not for others, a problem that continues to vex scientists and drugmakers even as they've made rapid research progress in recent years.
Immunotherapy, the field of research that studies how drugs can recruit the body's immune system to fight cancer, is the most notable example of that progress. But Sanofi was for years a bystander in the space, watching from the sidelines as Merck & Co., Bristol Myers Squibb and Roche established leading positions and launched new drugs.
The drugmaker, which is now led by CEO Paul Hudson, is finally in the mix thanks to its approved cancer immunotherapy Libtayo, which it developed under a research partnership with Regeneron. But the company hopes to expand on Libtayo's success and explore drug combinations as well as new treatment settings — a push that could be aided by the new alliance with MD Anderson.
"The focus is to try to accelerate our scientific understanding broadly in the immuno-oncology space and then specifically with a range of different investigational treatments to gain a much deeper understanding of how these agents are interacting with tumors," said Peter Adamson, Sanofi's new global development head of oncology and pediatric innovation, in an interview.
Sanofi and MD Anderson, which began discussing an alliance in 2018, will jointly study multiple early-stage therapies in "biomarker-enriched trials across a wide array of tumor types," said Cara Haymaker, an assistant professor of translational molecular pathology at MD Anderson, in an email to BioPharma Dive.
Biomarkers, which can indicate how likely a patient is to respond, will be a focus of the collaboration. In a statement, Sanofi noted that MD Anderson will help conduct "comprehensive" study of tumor samples before, during and after treatment.
"You not only have to have an effective drug, you need a deep knowledge of whom that drug is going to work in," said Adamson.
Sanofi and MD Anderson plan to launch their first project this summer, and will focus on early-stage clinical studies and research that can help bridge preclinical science into human testing.
The alliance is the latest move taken by Sanofi to build up its cancer research. Last fall, the pharma bought the cancer biotech Synthorx and, in March, won U.S. approval of its multiple myeloma treatment Sarclisa, the first drug wholly owned by Sanofi to get regulatory clearance in the past decade.
Sanofi's expansion in cancer is part of a broader bid to refocus its research, long centered on diabetes and cardiovascular drugs, into oncology, immunology and, potentially, gene therapy.