BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS Cerep and the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Synth labo have renewed and broadened the drug discovery collaboration they entered in December 1997.

Under the terms of an addendum signed for 2002, the companies have agreed to continue their collaboration on the two most advanced research programs, to drop two less promising projects, and to initiate high-throughput screening and optimization of hits for two new targets of therapeutic interest.

The original collaboration agreement signed between Cerep, of Rueil-Malmaison, and Paris-based Sanofi (prior to its merger with Synth labo) covered the discovery and development of chemical compounds for a number of therapeutic targets and was due to be implemented in two stages over four years. In the first phase, Cerep was to design and produce a private library of chemical compounds for use by Sanofi in its in-house research and development programs. In the second, the companies were to undertake joint discovery and optimization programs using Cerep’s proprietary “high-throughput lead development” technology.

The scope of their collaboration already was enlarged once, in early 1999, to include the screening of two additional targets, in return for which Sanofi doubled its annual research and development funding to Cerep. Cerep also is due to receive milestones from Sanofi-Synth labo, as well as royalties on the future sales of drugs resulting from their joint research programs.

Cerep’s CEO, Thierry Jean, told BioWorld International that Sanofi-Synth labo was not increasing its R&D payments to Cerep this time, since the new projects would be funded by the savings made on the two that have been abandoned. Noting that Sanofi-Synth labo could simply have ended the collaboration at the end of 2001, he added that its decision to extend the deal was a mark of its satisfaction.

It also meant an increase in the value of the collaboration to Cerep. At the outset, analysts estimated it would be worth a total of US$33 million, assuming at least two drug candidates were successful. Jean said it already had two successes and that the new research programs were likely to produce at least one more. He also pointed out that the company had not received any milestones yet, since they would only become payable when a product entered clinical development. In that regard, he said that Phase I clinical trials of the most advanced drug target were unlikely to start before 2003.

Last month Sanofi-Synth labo signed a collaboration agreement with Immuno-Designed Molecules SA covering cell therapies for cancer. That deal could be worth as much as EUR616 million (US$545 million) to the Paris-based biotechnology company.