R&D at Sanofi: Diverse, Collaborative and Efficient
In yesterday’s post Marc Bonnefoi, DVM, Ph.D., Head of the North America Research and Development (R&D) Hub, told us about his role at Sanofi and gave an overview of the R&D process. Today he shares how the R&D process has evolved and reveals what makes Sanofi R&D unique.
Q: How has the R&D process evolved since you started working in the pharmaceutical industry?
A: For many years, we had a drug in search of a patient. We screened scores of molecules to see if they had any effect on different models of medical conditions. Today, we begin with an understanding of the underlying cause of a given disease and work to develop a solution to interfere with that process. We are trying to integrate a translational approach to our R&D efforts, applying the knowledge from patient populations much earlier in our drug discovery and development processes and identifying earlier indicators of whether or not a potential treatment will be successful. At Sanofi, we are truly putting the patient first in all of our R&D efforts so that a new product has medical value as well as scientific value.
Q: In your experience, is there anything that makes R&D at Sanofi unique compared to other pharmaceutical companies?
A: I am struck by our ability to change in response to the evolving external environment and our renewed focus on the patient. Sanofi has truly responded to the evolution of the medical need, retooling and rethinking our entire approach, and having the courage to address complex issues.
One of the strengths of our R&D organization is our diversity. The Hub has created a framework to leverage our variety of expertise across Merial, Sanofi Pasteur, Genzyme and Sanofi US for the benefit of our R&D projects and patients. There are very few other companies, if any, that are leaders in vaccines, diabetes, oncology and rare diseases. By leveraging the knowledge of all these various areas of expertise, we are positioned to make an even greater impact on addressing unmet patient needs.
A: First and foremost, I am excited about our pipeline; in particular several game-changing opportunities that could transform the lives of patients just a few years from now if the current late stage clinical trials demonstrate the expected benefit/risk. In the past few months, we have received FDA approval for two new therapies with true impact for patients, and we have another 16 potential drugs and vaccines that could launch as early as 2015.
I am also motivated by our new collaborative approach to R&D and our focus on finding new ways to produce efficient, cost-effective and transformative health solutions. We have several early stage academic research collaborations such as those with the JDRF, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Joslin Diabetes Center, where we are sharing our expertise with theirs to find treatments for patients with diabetes.
Q: Are there any other aspects of R&D that you think are important for consumers to know about or better understand?
A: In spite of remarkable scientific progress, our capacity to translate those advances into health benefits generally decreased since the ’90s. In the biopharmaceutical sector, the success rate has dropped from 1 in 8 to 1 in 14, and the length of development has doubled. On average, it has taken 10 to 15 years to develop the drugs that were recently approved. On the other hand, some recent statistics, such as number of drugs approved and cycle time, suggest that we may be at a tipping point. Patients, their family and society at large should continue to expect more from R&D: it is our main driver.
It’s great to see that our patient-centered approach translates to all areas of the organization, especially R&D from where future treatments, and hopefully cures will come. A huge thank you to Marc for giving us a behind the scenes look at Sanofi R&D.
Senior Director, Partners in Patient Health