Sanofi got a ton of free press last week from hundreds of thousands of Twitter users. To update the (blissfully) uninformed, comedian Roseanne Barr had recently used the social media platform to make a racist statement about a former White House aide. Presumably in damage control mode afterwards, Barr tweeted an apology saying she had been “Ambien tweeting.” So Sanofi—who makes Ambien—had the opportunity to engage in some, uh, brand management. The company’s response thus makes very clear that, “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.” Their tweet blew up, with nearly 69k retweets and over 185k likes. And while they note no Sanofi medication has side effects of racism, they weren’t clear on other companies’ drugs. Your move, social media managers.
How about some exciting, multi-billion dollar deals to spice up the first quarter? First, Sanofi acquired Bioverativ, a hemophilia-focused biopharmaceutical company that spun out of Biogen last February. Since losing patent protection, Sanofi has seen flagging revenue from their flagship Lantus products—which occupy the #4 and #15 spots on IQVIA’s list of Top Medicines by Invoice Spending—and they’re hoping Bioverativ can give their treatment portfolio a boost. Similarly, Celgene boosted their pipeline prospects by acquiring Juno Therapeutics, who have a promising CAR-T candidate expected to be FDA-approved in 2019. Celgene also recently bought Impact Biomedicines, all part of a strategy to preemptively address profit losses when their blood cancer drug Revlimid goes off-patent in a few years.
We’ve done a full 360 on Zika. In early 2016, the WHO declared Zika to be a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” Less than two years later we’re just injecting it into brains willy-nilly to see what it does. To be fair, it does seem to kill glioblastomas pretty effectively, so we’ll give mad scientists a pass this time. Still, the Zika crisis did seem to peter out quickly in the Americas, at least quicker than US government investors expected. Without any real epidemic threat from the virus forthcoming, funding for the government and Sanofi’s vaccine development partnership has dried up. There are still two vaccine candidates from GSK and Takeda in development, but the decision has been criticized as short-sighted.
Maybe you should talk to your doctor to see if a HealthyDose™ of biosimilars is right for you. Side effects include: euphoria caused by an acute awareness of feeling yourself getting smarter, accusations of being a know-it-all by your colleagues, and more euphoria due to objectively knowing you are in fact smarter than your colleagues.
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Remember a couple of years ago when Sanofi partnered with MannKind because they believed Afrezza, MannKind’s inhaled insulin product, would capture diabetes patients who hate injections? And remember when Sanofi paid MannKind $150m up front and loaned them an additional $175m? Well, the sales didn’t materialize and Sanofi would like to pretend it never happened. So much so, in fact, they’re willing to forgive the balance of the loan—over $70m! I wonder if Sanofi needs a good news/blog writer? Then Sanofi could break up with the writer and then pay off the writer’s mortgage or something. Shares for MannKind were trading up at the time of this article. But then again, so would mine. Just sayin’.
Sanofi and Verily (Google Life Sciences) are the latest pharma/tech partnership in what’s being called the “Internet of Medical Things” (IoMT). Their joint venture, Onduo, will combine Sanofi’s experience in diabetes treatment with Verily’s reputation for consumer software, analytics, and miniature electronics. The IoMT market was $32.4 billion in 2015, but is projected to reach $163.2 billion by 2020. Other pharma/tech partnerships include: Pfizer and IBM teaming up to collect data from Parkinson’s patients, Novartis and Qualcomm collaborating on biometrics, and a host of other joint ventures related to smart pill bottles, smart inhalers, etc. The first Onduo products (TBD on specifics) are expected to launch in 2018.
This week, United Health announced a proposal to drop Sanofi’s insulin Lantus and Amgen’s bone marrow stimulant Neupogen in favor of their biosimilars. AND THEN, the FDA approved Amgen’s biosimilar version of Humira. Good week for biosimilars, bad week for Lantus, and meh week for Amgen (especially since AbbVie is still suing for patent infringement). This is only the fourth biosimilar licensed by the FDA under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act, but the true test will come if more payers, like United, drop the branded products completely. ICYMI: Biosimilar safety and interchangeability are still questioned by some.