Sanofi (SAN)’s experimental cancer treatment iniparib failed to help lung-cancer patients in a late-stage trial, prompting the company to end research into the once-promising compound and take a $285 million charge.
Development of an anti-coagulant, otamixaban, also will be halted after the drug showed no benefit over existing therapies in a study, the French drugmaker said in a statement today.
Chief Executive Officer Chris Viehbacher reorganized Sanofi’s oncology business into a full-fledged division soon after taking over in December 2008, touting iniparib as a key program for the company’s transformation. Sanofi got the compound, also known as BSI-201, through the 2009 purchase of BiPar Sciences Inc. The French company agreed to pay as much as $500 million if iniparib met development goals.
It’s “a drug that had great phase-two results, was picked as kind of the rising star at ASCO in 2009, but you have to be humble in front of science,” Viehbacher said in an interview on the sidelines of an event at Sanofi’s headquarters in Paris today, in reference to the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, which takes place every year. “Even when you have great phase two data it doesn’t always mean it’s going to play out in phase three.”
Iniparib failed in a key study in breast cancer in 2011, prompting Viehbacher to say the company wasn’t giving up on it.
At the time of the BiPar acquisition, iniparib was viewed as possibly the most advanced drug in a new family of medicines known as parp inhibitors.
Most cancer drugs work by blasting DNA in the malignant cells with chemotherapy or radiation. The malignant cells can fight back by using defenses called parp enzymes to fix damaged strands of DNA within tumors. The new medicines are designed to block the enzymes, helping standard treatments to kill the cancer.
Recent research has showed iniparib cannot inhibit PARP 1 at pharmacological concentrations, Sanofi said in today’s statement.
“In the case of iniparib, there may be an active drug in there somewhere, but at the moment there is no clear path for development,” Viehbacher said today. Sanofi remains committed to building up its oncology business, he added.
“Originally the acquisition of BiPar was to also really show we were still committed to oncology,” Viehbacher said. “This one didn’t work out, but it led to us to being able to recruit lots of other people and motivate our teams to say yes, we are still interested.”
Sanofi shares fell 1.5 percent to close at 81.25 euros in Paris, giving the company a market value of 107.6 billion euros ($140.8 billion). The stock has returned 57 percent in the past year including reinvested dividends, compared with a 36 percent return for the Bloomberg Europe Pharmaceutical Index.
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