The partnership will focus on Regulus’ existing fibrosis treatment programme with Sanofi collaborating on the development of candidates that interact with four microRNAs, including a lead programme that targets micro RNA-21.
Sanofi executive VP of R&D Marc Cluzel explained that: “We will develop therapeutics which could potentially open a new paradigm in the treatment of major diseases and could offer an attractive new therapeutic approach for patients.”
The agreement follows two years after California, US –based Regulus formed a similar microRNA development partnership with UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which was worth some $600m.
Even at a time when Big Pharma is searching for novel technologies to replenish pipelines the willingness of Sanofi and GSK to invest such large sums in a relatively untested technology is an indication of its potential.
Discovered a decade ago, microRNA molecules are small sections of genetic material that, rather than encoding proteins, are involved in regulating the expression of other genes.
This regulatory role, coupled with the discovery that the function of microRNA is often altered in various diseases, has seen the molecules emerge as an increasingly popular target for drug research.
Despite this interest, as yet, no microRNA-targeting drug candidate has entered clinical development, although prior to the Sanofi deal Regulus had said it would initiate trials sometime next year.
Whether Sanofi’s involvement will accelerate clinical development plans remains to be seen, however the involvement of a second Big Pharma firm positions Regulus, and co-owners Alnylam and Isis, at the head of the field.
The agreement will also increase pressure on rival microRNA developers Santaris Pharma, Mirina, Miragen Therapeutics and Mirna Therapeutics to find similar support from Big Pharma investors in order to compete.
Sanofi signs $375m diabetes drug deal
In other news, Sanofi has licensed a type 2 diabetets treatment candidate from US developer Metabolex for $375m. The drug, known as MBX-2982, is currently in what Metabolx describes as mid-stage testing.
The deal grants Sanofi rights to manufacture and sell the drug, assuming that it successfully completes clinical trials and is approved by regulators.