Sanofi’s Genzyme unit has made a major play in the gene therapy sector with a $845m alliance with Voyager Therapeutics.
The announcement was made on the same day that the company unveiled 100 job cuts at its Cambridge, Massachusetts, R&D facility, including the elimination of groups focusing on cancer and certain rare diseases.
The collaboration with Voyager is focusing on the develop of gene therapies based on adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors and intended to treat central nervous system (CNS) disorders, according to the two companies.
Initial targets will be Parkinson’s disease – including Voyager’s lead product candidate VY-AADC01 which has cleared preliminary clinical trials – as well as preclinical projects Friedrich’s ataxia and Huntington’s disease. Voyager is retaining rights to a programme in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is also in preclinical development.
Genzyme is making an upfront payment of $100m to Voyager – made up of $65m in cash, a $30m equity investment and other contributions – and the gene therapy is also in line to receive development and sales milestones of up to $745m if the partnered programmes proceed as expected in the coming years.
It is a major development for a company that was only launched last year with $45m in financing from venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures.
Genzyme brings its own expertise in gene therapy to the alliance, having been working in that area for “more than 20 years”, according to chief executive David Meeker. The company has an AAV-based gene therapy for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in phase I trials and is also researching gene therapies for neurologic diseases, including Huntington’s.
“This strategic collaboration provides significant funding to drive the development of our expanded product pipeline, while also allowing Voyager to continue to thrive as an independent company,” said Steven Paul, Voyager’s CEO.
Meanwhile, the layoffs in Cambridge include Tal Zacks, senior vice president and head of Sanofi’s global oncology division, according to a Bloomberg report, which notes that the oncology research conducted by Zacks’ team will be transferred to other R&D units in the group.
Sanofi made a concerted effort to build its oncology business in 2009 but has yet to reap any significant benefit from the effort.
The announcements come as Sanofi is still searching for a replacement for former chief executive Chris Viehbacher, who was fired last October after clashes with the company’s board of directors.
Investors have become increasingly disillusioned about the as-yet fruitless search for a replacement, and Chairman Serge Weinberg said recently that a new CEO would be named by the end of March.