Sanofi Drug Beats AbbVie's Blockbuster Humira in Human Trial

  • Sarilumab tested in head-to-head trial with AbbVie's Humira
  • U.S. regulators set to decide on sarilumab in fourth quarter

Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. said an experimental rheumatoid arthritis therapy helped patients more than AbbVie Inc.’s Humira in a late-stage trial.

The treatment, sarilumab, improved signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis more than Humira did after 24 weeks of treatment in the study, the companies said in a statement Friday. Sarilumab, a monoclonal antibody that reduces joint swelling and inflammation by blocking a protein known as IL-6, was injected every two weeks.

Sarilumab, which was folded into Sanofi’s Genzyme unit after a restructuring this year, may generate annual sales of more than 500 million euros ($557 million) a year by 2022, according to the average of four analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The product will enter a crowded market worth more than $20 billion and led by Humira as well as Roche Holding AG’s Actemra if it wins regulatory approval. 

AbbVie, in a statement Friday, said that Humira is typically used with another drug, methotrexate, and that Sanofi’s trial may not have used the best comparison.

GlaxoSmithKline Plc and partner Johnson & Johnson are among other companies developing competing experimental rheumatoid arthritis therapies, and Sanofi may struggle to differentiate sarilumab from rivals, according to some analysts.

Shares of Sanofi climbed 1.9 percent to 73.96 euros in Paris trading. AbbVie shares rose 2.7 percent to $57.73 at the close in New York.

Genzyme is counting on sarilumab and dupilumab, another experimental product obtained through the alliance with Regeneron, to build a presence in the field of immunology -- the science of the immune system -- that is “very important” for Sanofi’s future, President David Meeker said in a January interview. The French drugmaker has pointed to immunology as one of the areas where it may seek acquisitions.

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