Sanofi advances a one-shot malaria program as drug resistance spreads

Sanofi Chief Scientific Officer Gary Nabel

Sanofi ($SNY) has re-upped with its partners at Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) in hopes of developing a single-dose treatment for the infectious disease, advancing a pair of candidates through mid-stage development.

Under an agreement signed in 2011, the partners are working to develop an alternative to standard artemisinin-based combination therapies, which commonly require three days to administer and have run into treatment resistance problems in the developing world.

Sanofi brought in MMV to vet its compound library in search of combos that could improve upon what's on the market, and the pair settled on OZ439, a synthetic peroxide with the potential to kill the parasite responsible for malaria with a single dose. The partners have launched a Phase IIb study of OZ439 coupled with the common antimalarial piperaquine, and, with the extension of their agreement, plan to launch a Phase IIb trial matching it with the similar ferroquine later this summer.

Once data from the two studies are available, Sanofi and MMV's joint steering committee will decide which, if any, of the cocktails merits Phase III development.

"By joining the fight against infectious diseases around the world and extending the successful collaboration with MMV, we aim to stay one step ahead of this ever-changing threat and work together toward the eradication of malaria," Sanofi Chief Scientific Officer Gary Nabel said in a statement.

The need for novel malaria treatments has only escalated in recent years, as resistance to artemisinin has increased in Southeast Asia, spurring fears that the same could spread to Africa, home to nearly 90% of the world's annual 584,000 malaria deaths, Sanofi said.

Earlier this month, a group of Scottish scientists working with MMV reported that a human blood-derived treatment posted stellar results in preclinical studies. The therapy's promise convinced Merck KGaA to step in and license the program, and the German drugmaker is working to swiftly move the candidate into clinical development.

MMV has signed scores of partnerships with industry and academia around the world, encouraging open-source R&D by shipping out free drug discovery kits to researchers. The nonprofit's banner product is called the Malaria Box, a collection 400 molecules found to be active against the disease. MMV's latest offering is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported Pathogen Box, a collection of 400 more potential drugs with potential to treat malaria and a host of other neglected diseases.

- read the statement (PDF)