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Sanofi Sees Cure for Cancer Woes in Moving West for Acquisitions

  • French drugmaker seeks ready drugs as well as bolder pioneers
  • One California cancer purchase backfired seven years ago

Sanofi is going west once more in its search for cancer gold.

Chief Scientific Officer Gary Nabel says to revive its oncology business, Sanofi is hunting for assets ranging from approved cancer drugs to experimental ones that mine new expertise, such as exploiting flaws in tumor cells.

Sanofi’s ambitions in cancer suggest Medivation Inc. of California may not be its only target. They also account for the French drugmaker’s dogged efforts to draw out Medivation’s board: with a blockbuster already on sale and an experimental medicine of a promising class known as PARP inhibitors, which disrupt cancer cells’ process of DNA repair, the U.S. biotechnology company’s pipeline ticks at least two boxes on Nabel’s list.

“One part of the approach is to take mature assets and to maximize value from those,’’ Nabel said in a telephone interview. “Those are late-stage acquisitions. But equally important, it’s looking at early stage developments like PARP inhibitors and others.’’

Paris-based Sanofi was once known for cancer blockbusters such as Taxotere and Eloxatin. But in recent years, sales at its cancer franchise have eroded as patents expired, enabling others to introduce low-cost versions of its medicines.

Bad Memories

And when it looked west to buy a pioneering PARP inhibitor to rejuvenate the business, things backfired. The experimental medicine that was the underlying motive for Sanofi’s 2009 acquisition of San Francisco-based BiPar Sciences Inc. failed in advanced tests less than two years later.

The French drugmaker then missed out on the wave of innovations in immuno-oncology that...