Sanofi drops option, inks $750M R&D collaboration with Warp Drive Bio

Three years after Sanofi ($SNY) signed on to back Cambridge, MA-based Warp Drive Bio, taking an option to buy, the pharma giant has stepped back up to retool the terms, opting for a 5-year collaboration potentially worth $750 million while leaving the biotech free to pursue its own independent future.

Sanofi, which has been steadily externalizing drug development over the past few years, is turning to Warp Drive to deliver on four separate programs, which are collectively worth up to $750 million in an upfront, milestones and research support. And Warp Drive, which has been primarily engaged in a slate of very early-stage efforts orchestrated by Harvard professor and scientific co-founder Greg Verdine, is also in line for royalties in the deal.

Warp Drive Bio CEO Laurence Reid

Warp Drive was founded in part by Third Rock, which dispatched Alnylam ($ALNY) vet Laurence Reid to run the biotech last March as Verdine pivoted from CEO to CSO, which is where his talents lie.

The top three programs in the new Sanofi deal are focused on the RAS oncogenic protein. The fourth program will focus Warp's platform tech on Gram-negative antibiotics.

Just two months ago Warp Drive set up an advisory group of top scientists in the field, announcing that its Small Molecule-Assisted Receptor Targeting platform--SMART, which aims to use a genomic search engine to develop next-gen drugs with the guidance of Mother Nature--was positioned to deliver breakthrough RAS drugs. RAS mutations are responsible for about 30% of all solid tumors.

The deal leaves Warp Drive in the driver's seat through Phase II on RAS, "the king of oncogenes," Reid tells FierceBiotech, with Sanofi taking over for the Phase III work.

The deal is the latest in a roster of pacts for Sanofi's Sunrise Initiative. And it marks a new day for Warp Drive, which will shift from a company pondering an option deal to an independent role, free to pursue another one or two big partnerships in the next two or three years as it plots its own future.

Sanofi R&D head Elias Zerhouni

"In the last two years we came to understand that we had more opportunities than one company could swallow," says Reid. So it made sense to better define the Sanofi relationship, leaving the biotech able to partner with others as it also pursued in-house oncology programs and a separate antibiotic program of its own.

"Our partnership with Warp Drive is a perfect example of open innovation which allows Sanofi to collaborate with innovative companies and combine unique areas of expertise to advance drug development in a meaningful way," said Elias Zerhouni, president of Sanofi's Global R&D arm, in a statement.

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