Sanofi reboots research of ovarian cancer in academic collaboration

After a series of setbacks in its hunt for ovarian cancer drugs, Sanofi ($SNY) has struck a three-year partnership deal with the Curie Institute in France that brings scientists back to the molecular drawing board to find new drug targets for the disease.

The Paris-based drug giant and Curie plan to team up on basic research of ovary tumors. They aim to compare molecular differences between ovarian tumor samples and healthy tissue from the same patients with the hope of identifying targets for future drug development. It often takes more than 10 years from the point of target discovery to completing development of a new drug, so this marks an investment in the future of Sanofi's drug pipeline. It's not disclosing financial details, though.

Sanofi has some incentive to begin a drug hunt from scratch after falling short in clinical trials of compounds against ovarian cancer, which is typically treated with chemotherapy and surgery. The drugmaker slammed the brakes on development of ombrabulin for ovarian cancer after the drug candidate failed to pass muster in an interim review of a midstage study. Sanofi also whiffed in a study of its candidate iniparib in ovarian cancer. And though Zaltrap won approval for colon cancer, Sanofi produced only mixed results in using the drug to combat ovarian tumors.

In the search for new ideas, Sanofi and other large drugmakers have headed back to basic research labs in academia. Just this week AstraZeneca ($AZN), which has suffered from its own R&D setbacks, forged an alliance in oncology with Cancer Research UK. Under the pact with Curie Institute, where 1,200 researchers have built expertise in cancer biology, Sanofi gets access to scientific knowledge and technologies that may not exist inside its own organization.  

"We hope this type of long-term collaboration will ultimately open up perspectives for new therapeutic options for women with this disease," stated Dr. Debasish Roychowdhury, head of Sanofi Oncology. "It will combine the accumulated knowledge on ovarian cancer gathered over many years by oncologists and biologists at the Institut Curie with the expertise of researchers from Sanofi's research and product development teams."

Sanofi R&D chief Elias Zerhouni has talked up the importance of his researchers translating discoveries from the lab bench to a patient's bedside, and this collaboration with Curie gives the company a chance to do just that.

- here's the release
- see the report from PMLive

Special Report: 20 Major Pharma-Academic Alliances in 2012

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