Sanofi backs pitch to turn Marseille into an immunotherapy R&D hub

The French city of Marseille has staked its claim for a corner of the booming immunotherapy R&D ecosystem. And the plan has some big-name backers, with Sanofi ($SNY) and Innate Pharma both signing up as founders of the MI-mAbs immunotherapy research center in the city.

Sanofi and Innate Pharma have joined with a regional cancer center, Aix-Marseille Université and the French state biomedical research organization to found MI-mAbs, which will validate immunotherapy hypotheses in preclinical tests. Researchers from other corners of the Marseille Immunopole cluster can work with MI-mAbs to assess whether therapeutic targets are worth pursuing, potentially closing the gap between the science of the city's immunotherapy academics and the demands of biotechs.

MI-mAbs Scientific Director Francois Romagne

"Academic and industrial researchers working in the immunotherapy field will benefit from a unique collaborative space based on a continuum of expertise, competence, technologies and seasoned managers well-versed in industry standards," MI-mAbs Scientific Director François Romagné said in a statement. Romagné co-founded Innate Pharma--where he worked as chief scientific officer for 14 years--and also spent a long stint at immunodiagnostic player Immunotech.

Romagne will now apply this experience to help others to advance their hypotheses to preclinical proof-of-concept, at which stage the asset could start to become more attractive to biopharma firms or a viable basis for a startup. As such, MI-mAbs could help researchers follow the path established by Innate Pharma, which spun out of Centre d'Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy under the guidance of Romagne and Hervé Brailly, who is on the steering committee of the new immunotherapy center.

Sanofi is represented on the committee by Magali Agnel, a manager in the Big Pharma's external science team and alumnus of Aix-Marseille Université. Agnel and the rest of the committee will provide a scientific strategy for Romagne and his team of 15 researchers, who are due to move into new 1,000-square-meter digs next year.

- read the release

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