Sanofi cozies up to top-tier labs with new R&D partnering effort

Sanofi ($SNY) has widened its R&D net, recruiting 7 of the U.S.'s most-respected research institutions in hopes of ferreting out some new ideas in early-stage drug development.

Under its Sanofi Innovation Awards program, the French drugmaker will fund collaborative programs at Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, Weill Cornell Medical College, University of Texas, Columbia University, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Each stakeholder will participate in a joint steering committee that will vet proposals and pick which projects get funded, and Sanofi has committed up to $2.4 million a year to pay for the effort.

Sanofi CMO Paul Chew

The company is imposing no restrictions or therapy-area parameters on its academic partners, and the goal of the three-year initiative is to take to take a wide-angle approach to biomedical science in search of ideas with translational potential. Sanofi expects its financial commitment to bankroll about 20 to 25 projects each year, Chief Medical Officer Paul Chew told Xconomy, and the company is betting that's enough shots on goal to generate some winning ideas.

"These are seed investments; this is just to cast the first net widely," Chew said. "If they bear fruit, or look like they might bear fruit, a lot more would go behind individual proposals."

Among biopharma companies, Sanofi is particularly reliant on partnering up in R&D, often handsomely rewarding its collaborators. The drugmaker's long-running alliance with Regeneron ($REGN) is likely to generate its first approved product this summer with the cholesterol treatment Praluent, and the pair are working together on a host of new antibodies for a range of diseases. Sanofi has a similar arrangement with Alnylam ($ALNY) in the rare disease space, and the company has signed smaller deals to expand its efforts in gene therapy, cancer and infectious disease.

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