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By Marie Daghlian

Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE:SNY) is banking up to $800 million that Avila Therapeutics’ targeted drug technology will lead to better drugs to treat cancer. The French biopharma entered into a worldwide strategic alliance with the private, Boston area biotech to discover drugs for the treatment of cancer. Sanofi will have an exclusive license to develop and commercialize the compounds resulting from their efforts.

Avila focuses on the design and development of targeted covalent drugs to achieve outcomes that cannot be achieved through traditional chemistry, a process it calls “protein silencing.” Covalent drugs are able to establish a stronger and more enduring bond with a target than conventional drugs to completely shut down the activity of, and silence, a disease-causing protein. By silencing the disease target, these drugs may also provide a longer duration of action. Covalent drugs are considered to have the potential for unique therapeutic benefits because they are targeted and effective against mutations.

Sanofi will work with Avila to design targeted covalent drugs directed towards six signaling proteins that are critical in tumor cells, targets that have been difficult to approach through traditional medicinal chemistry.

Sanofi will pay Avila up to $40 million in upfront and research support payments. Avila has the opportunity to retain the rights to one of the six collaboration programs after the end of the initial three-year collaboration term. Sanofi will retain a right of first negotiation for that program should Avila decide to partner it out. Avila is also eligible to receive development and regulatory milestone payments up to $154 million per program, plus royalties, if the respective product is approved in the United States, Europe and Japan.
“Avila Therapeutics’ expertise in designing targeted covalent drugs offers a new way to solve difficult pharmacological challenges in oncology and to address important cancer targets,” says Debasish Roychowdhury, senior vice president and head of oncology at Sanofi. “We believe that Avila’s approach adds to our growing portfolio of research capabilities that will provide medicines which substantially improve patient outcomes.”

Sanofi-Aventis’ tie-up with Avila Therapeutics is one of several the company has made in the past two weeks as it seeks to beef up its oncology offerings, of which there are currently 10 compounds in development. In early December, it paid $60 million upfront to license technology patents from Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences covering its discovery of the importance of the Slit-Robo signaling path for tumor vasculature and growth, which could lead to an anti-angiogenesis drug.

Sanofi, following in the footsteps of other big pharmaceuticals, is also teaming up with Merck KGaA (OTCPK:MKGAY) to test each other's experimental cancer drugs in combination in early-stage clinical studies. AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) teamed up with Merck (NYSE:MRK) last year and Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) teamed up earlier this year in similar agreements to test their early stage cancer compounds in combination.

At the same time, as it was signing its deal with Avila, Sanofi teamed up with the University of Oxford to conduct oncology research in India.

The partners will conduct multi-phase oncology clinical and epidemiological research with INDOX, an equal partnership between Oxford and leading academic centers in India. Sanofi will provide financial support to Oxford to manage the INDOX network of eight leading cancer-research centers across India.

“This relationship not only helps to train the next generation of cancer researchers in India, but also allows Sanofi-Aventis to efficiently develop drugs in the premier cancer centers in India, which also provides access to anticancer drugs to help patients fight their cancer,” says Roychowdhury.

Source: Sanofi-Aventis Continues to Beef Up Oncology Pipeline With New Strategic Alliance