Hey, biopharma: JPM isn't the be-all, end-all for deal-making, Sanofi exec says

Sanofi Pasteur HQ
Sanofi is hosting a bicoastal partnering day along with Biocom and MassBio. (Sanofi/Vincent Moncorgé)

Among the many things we took for granted before COVID-19 were in-person gatherings, where everyone in biopharma could catch up, talk shop and maybe emerge with a new partner or two. Sanofi isn’t sweating it, though—the sudden need to go virtual gave companies a chance to get out of their deal-making comfort zone.

“I think the industry was too reliant on J.P. Morgan, ASCO and so on,” said Alban de La Sablière, head of partnering at Sanofi. “Conferences are useful, of course, to meet people, but they should not be a driver of the way you run your pipeline.”

In other words, biopharma companies could—and should—be on the lookout for potential partners year-round, rather than putting all of their eggs in the same few baskets.

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Sanofi has set up and struck several deals since the pandemic began, including a protein degradation collab with Kymera Therapeutics worth $150 million upfront and a licensing deal with Kiadis Pharma for natural killer (NK) cells to use in combination with the French drugmaker's multiple myeloma drug Sarclisa. It also teamed up with GlaxoSmithKline on a COVID-19 vaccine and expanded an infectious disease pact with Translate Bio to include COVID-19.

“As far as partnering discussions are concerned, the pandemic didn’t impact us that much. There was more positive than negative—what happened is everybody switched to digital very, very quickly,” La Sablière said

But going digital doesn’t just mean switching plane tickets for Zoom links—it also requires a little creativity. Sanofi teamed up with MassBio and Biocom to put on a bicoastal partnering day, where the French pharma will connect with biotech companies, entrepreneurs, researchers, accelerators and incubators in Massachusetts, California and across the U.S.

During the event, Sanofi will detail its R&D pipeline, its business development strategy and the areas it’s looking to partner in, like oncology, immunology and inflammation, rare blood disorders, vaccines and rare neurologic diseases. And yes—it will take several one-on-one meetings with potential partners.

There won’t be any chance meetings in the halls of the Westin St. Francis, but La Sablière thinks when there’s a will, there’s a way.

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“There is always the odd story of something that happened by accident that is quoted, but at the end of the day, biotechs have the phone number of all the VCs and all the Big Pharmas,” he said. “At Sanofi, we have a strong team across San Francisco, Paris, Germany, China—we’re in all the big biotech hubs and we have a constant dialogue with them.”

And on the other side of the pandemic? La Sablière sees showrunners blending the digital and in-person models.

“I think the big question that all the event organizers will have once COVID-19 is gone or under control, is how do you mix the two?” he said. “I don’t know how we could combine the two, but we should be able to have the best of both worlds. We can make events more efficient, with less encumbering logistics, but still have a personal feel to it.”