Sanofi doubles down on Selecta collaboration, adding $300M in fresh incentives

Sanofi ($SNY) is taking its three-year-old development collaboration with Selecta Biosciences another big step forward, taking an option on a "negative vaccine" program for celiac disease and putting another $300 million on the table in prospective milestones and research support for a successful program. And the Watertown, MA-based biotech paired that news with word that it is collaborating with the notable French gene therapy company Genethon to use its technology to make their therapies safe for multiple uses, if required.

Selecta's synthetic vaccine particle immunotherapies are aimed at tamping down an unwanted immune response, exactly what Sanofi is looking for in preventing the unwanted reaction to gluten which characterizes celiac disease. Sanofi originally signed on to work with Selecta's team on food allergies and inked a separate deal last year to come up with a new therapy for Type 1 diabetes that will look to reset the human immune system.

MIT's Robert Langer

Working with technology out of the lab of prolific MIT investigator Robert Langer, who came in with Omid Farokhzad and Ulrich von Andrian of the Harvard Medical School to establish the scientific foundation for the company, the biotech raised $20 million in a venture round last fall designed to support clinical development of the in-house drug SEL-212, a safer version of pegsiticase for treatment-resistant gout that shouldn't arouse an immune attack against the drug.

These are all therapies that revolve around what CEO Werner Cautreels likes to call "negative vaccines," looking to achieve the opposite effect of a vaccine, which looks to spur an immune assault on a target. As of now, the first program on food allergies is the furthest down the road, with a clinical candidate expected to be in place by early 2016, around the same time it should start to see data on its lead internal program.

If the stars align as hoped, Cautreels says that could be just the right time to fire off an IPO.

In the meantime, Selecta will have a chance to get deeper into its collaboration with Genethon, which just days ago reported on some promising results from a small human study. One of the chief stumbling blocks for gene therapies, says Cautreels, is that the viral vector used to deliver the right gene can trigger an unwanted immune response. It's logical that Selecta's technology could stop that reaction, allowing repeated use of a gene therapy when necessary.

In this deal, the two companies are working to blend Selecta's SVP tech with an existing gene therapy from the French biotech, so there's a revenue sharing formula for success instead of any upfronts and milestones. Cautreels adds that the deal covers three specific indications, leaving Selecta free to work with others in the fast-growing gene therapy field.

For Sanofi, the relationship with Selecta--a 2011 Fierce 15 company--has proved promising.

"This area is constantly evolving, and with partners like Selecta, breakthrough medicines may be within our grasp," said Kurt Stoeckli, the head of biotherapeutics R&D at Sanofi.

- here's the Sanofi release
- here's the Genethon release

Special Report: 2011 Fierce 15 - Selecta Biosciences