- Sanofi on Friday agreed to acquire Tidal Therapeutics, a small, privately held, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech developing messenger RNA-based treatments for cancer.
- The French pharmaceutical company will pay $160 million upfront to acquire Tidal and could add another $310 million in milestone payments. The deal gives Sanofi access to a fledgling biotech using an unusual approach to develop "off-the-shelf" cell therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases.
- Few details are publicly available about Tidal, which was formed in 2019 and is backed by the venture arms of Merck and AbbVie, among other investors. But the deal continues an effort by Sanofi, which is best known for its diabetes and cardiovascular drugs, to shift research resources toward cancer and inflammatory diseases.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic struck last year, Sanofi had made clear its interest in messenger RNA technology — a drugmaking method that harnesses the genetic script the body's cells use to make proteins.
Since 2015, the French firm has formed alliances with BioNTech and Translate Bio in cancer and infectious diseases, respectively. And its work with Translate grew in 2020, as the two joined forces to develop a coronavirus vaccine that recently began human testing.
mRNA technology has since proven its worth as vaccines from Moderna, as well as BioNTech and partner Pfizer, were shown to be strongly protective against COVID-19 and have been administered to millions of people. But those companies and their mRNA peers aim to use the technology in other ways as well. And so, apparently, does Sanofi and the little-known startup it just acquired.
Sanofi said the assets it's bought from Tidal give the company a new way to develop "off-the-shelf" cell therapies for cancer, inflammatory diseases and potentially other conditions.
The startup uses proprietary nanoparticles to deliver mRNA into the body and "reprogram" immune cells in the body, Sanofi said in a statement.
The French drugmaker didn't detail how the technology works or how it is able to precisely target certain types of immune cells, however. And Tidal's research remains very early: The experimental treatments it's currently developing are in preclinical testing for unspecified cancer types, Sanofi said.
But the startup's approach is described as a more convenient alternative to the hard-to-manufacture CAR-T therapies from Novartis, Gilead and Bristol Myers Squibb, which genetically modify the cells of individual patients outside the body. Tidal aims to broaden the reach of such treatments, which are limited by their complexity.
Other companies, like Allogene Therapeutics, are also aiming to develop off-the-shelf cell therapies, but use donor cells instead.
"We anticipate that this next generation, off-the-shelf approach has the potential to bring CAR-T cell therapy to a much broader patient population," said Frank Nestle, Sanofi's research chief and chief scientific officer, in a statement.
For Sanofi, the buyout is another step toward building out its cancer and inflammatory disease research. In November, the French drugmaker bought Kiadis Pharma, which is also working on more convenient cell treatments for cancer.