Looking east, Sanofi pens 'pioneering' cancer drug partnership with China's Innovent

When it comes to global market expansion, many Big Pharmas have their eye on China—and clearly Sanofi is no exception.

The French drugmaker has signed a cancer-focused deal with Suzhou-based Innovent with a goal of developing and rolling out two of Sanofi’s oncology assets. One of these drugs is an antibody-drug conjugate called tusamitamab ravtansine or SAR408701, which is in a global phase 2 study for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The other is a recombinant IL-2 variant called SAR444245, which is in phase 2 trials for a range of cancers including skin, gastrointestinal, NSCLC and lymphoma.

Both candidates will be trialed in combination with Innovent and Eli Lilly’s Tyvyt, which is the leading checkpoint inhibitor in China.

When it comes to licensing the drugs, Innovent will have exclusive rights to develop and commercialize tusamitamab in China for multiple types of cancer. In return, Sanofi will be eligible for up to 80 million euros ($81 million) in milestone payments as well as royalties.

For SAR444245, the two companies will jointly develop the drug in various cancer types, although Innovent will take the lead through the clinic. However, Sanofi will be solely responsible for commercialization and is due to hand its Chinese partner milestone payments of up to 60 million euros ($61 million) as well as royalties.

To seal the deal, Sanofi is making a 300 million euro ($306 million) investment in Innovent common shares.

“This pioneering partnership will leverage the synergy between Sanofi and Innovent's pipeline and R&D resources with the mutual aim to address major unmet medical needs for cancer patients,” Innovent CEO Michael Yu said in a statement Thursday. 

Sanofi saw its overall sales in China rise 11% year over year to 798 million euros ($815 million) in the second quarter. However, this was mainly driven by eczema therapy Dupixent and heart disease drug Plavix, as opposed to its oncology portfolio.

Innovent has shown itself keen for European partnerships in the past, signing a $2 billion biobucks cancer deal with Roche in 2020.