French drugmaker Sanofi enters $100 billion cancer drug treatment market

Sanofi’s strength in molecular oncology is likely to provide it a competitive edge over its peers as to what drives the growth of cancer tissues, how these cells functions and proliferation in the body.

In a strategic development, French drugmaker, Sanofi, has hired John Reed, a former top scientist at Roche, the market leader for oncology drugs, to head its group research operations. It aims to focus on its pipeline of 10 medicines that it hopes to place it on the $100 billion cancer drug treatment market.

According to Dmitri Wiederschain, Sanofi could gain an edge in the development of next generation immunotherapy treatments, which includes a combination of drugs to target cancer treatment.

“It is of course a very competitive space but we now have ‘foundation assets’ to form a better rationale for combinations,” said Wiederschain citing immunotherapy approaches known as PD-1, TGFBeta and the antibody CD38.

“If you look across the biopharmaceutical landscape, Sanofi is the only company which has all three assets in its own pipeline or partnered with Regeneron,” said Wiederschain.

According to analysts’ forecast, the immunotherapy is the fastest-growing sector in the cancer drug treatment segment, with sales expected to top $25 billion-a-year by 2021.

This is however a long term gain.

“We can see that Sanofi takes cancer seriously but you must remember R&D cycles are very long. So I would say Sanofi won’t be a great player in oncology but it may have some successes from time to time,” said Frederic Ponchon, a manager at Sycomore Asset Management which holds 6.7 million Sanofi shares.

In the short term, Sanofi is unlikely to rival cancer leaders including Merck & Co and Roche.

“They could enjoy occasional breakthroughs but it won’t carry a lot of weight in their overall sales,” said Ponchon.

Incidentally, Sanofi’s main business areas include drugs for heart diseases, diabetes and vaccines; its cancer treatment drugs make up only 4% of its sales. In 2017, its cancer drug sales totaled $1.7 billion compared with Roche’s $25.9 billion.

Currently only one of Sanofi’s cancer treatment drugs in its pipeline has made it to regulatory review in the European Union and the United States: immunotherapy agent cemiplimab to treat cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. Regeneron is its partner on the project.

Sanofi expects to submit another one of its candidates, isatuximab, which treats multiple myeloma, to U.S. regulatory review, either later this year or in early 2019.

“There is clearly huge market potential but also a very large number of players, it is the toughest issue here,” said Nicolas Baudouin, a director at Standard & Poor regarding immunotherapy.

According to Wiederschain, molecular oncology, which targets a tumor based on its genetic makeup, would also be a future differentiator.

“It is about understanding better what drives the growth of cancer tissues, how the cells works and proliferation in the body,” said Wiederschain.

This has led Sanofi to launch early-stage trials in breast cancer using molecular oncology technology.

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