Sanofi buys French biotech, seals U.S. cancer deal*

Sanofi-Aventis has bought French biotechnology company Fovea, specialized in eye diseases, and expanded its cancer portfolio through an exclusive worldwide drug licensing deal with Merrimack Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Sanofi announced the takeover of privately-held Fovea for an of up to 370 million euros, including an immediate upfront payment and subsequent milestone payments related to the three drugs in development.

"The acquisition of Fovea ... is a further step in our company's goal to focus on new approaches to strengthen our R&D portfolio" Chief Executive Chris Viehbacher said in a statement on Thursday.

Separately, Sanofi will further develop Merrimack's MM-121, a human monoclonal antibody which is in early-stage or Phase I clinical trials and seeks to targets solid tumors.

Under the agreement, Sanofi agreed to pay Merrimack an upfront cash payment of $60 million for the research, development, manufacturing and marketing rights.

Merrimack can fetch development and regulatory milestone payments of up to $410 million on MM-121 as well as royalties on the worldwide product sales. It will also receive performance milestones of as much as $60 million on worldwide sales.

Monoclonal antibodies are tailor-made proteins that can detect or pinpoint proteins attached to cancer cells. They can be used to block growth of cancer cells.

Sanofi is looking to expand its portfolio of drugs as a number of its top-selling treatments will lose its patent protection, clearing the way for other drugmakers to make the same drugs more cheaply.
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