Sanofi swoops for Pfizer insulin plant, scuppering MannKind's bid

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sanofi-aventis

Sanofi Aventis will pay Pfizer €30m ($41m) for a former Exubera manufacturing plant in Frankfurt-Höchst, Germany that was due to be bought by inhaled insulin specialist MannKind.

The French drugmaker said the facility, one of the largest of its kind in the world, will produce its Lantus SoloStar (insulin glargine) diabetes treatment, sales of which increased nearly 28 per cent to $2.45bn (€1.75bn) last year.

Pfizer, which has been seeking to sell the plant for several years following the market failure of its inhaled insulin product Exubera, agreed a sale with California, US-based MannKind in March.

The deal hinged on MannKind gaining manufacturing approval from operator Infraserv and, crucially, approval by Pfizer’s original Exubera co-developer Sanofi, which retained a “right of first refusal” option on the plant.

Evidently, gains made by Lantus in the SoloStar pen format coupled with growing worldwide demand for diabetes treatments, the World Health Organization predicts that more than 350m will develop the condition by 2030, convinced Sanofi to exercise its option.

In a press statement Martin Stewart, general manager of Sanofi in Germany, said: “The strong increase in demand for our insulins, and especially Lantus, drives us to considerably extend our production capacities.

In combining the acquired Diabel site with our existing plants Sanofi-Aventis will operate the largest insulin capacity in the world in Frankfurt​,” Stewart continued.

The acquisition fits with Sanofi’s ongoing efforts to “double Lantus sales by 2012​.” In April, the firm said it that it will invest $90m (64m) over the next three years to boost Lantus manufacturing capacity in China.

One small setback for MannKind?

According to some observers MannKind, which is yet to issue a statement on the Sanofi deal, may be less disappointed about the “loss” of the plant itself than it is about the regulatory benefits the acquisition would have provided.

When MannKind signed its original acquisition deal with Pfizer in March, Rodman & Renshaw analyst Jason Butler said that the manufacturing capacity provided by the facility was not the key motivation for the deal.

Instead, he suggested that the insulin inventory MannKind was due to gain and the license to make insulin for pulmonary delivery that it was required to obtain under the original terms would be of more benefit for MannKind.

If this reading of the situation is accurate, the fact MannKind still obtains EUR3m worth of insulin regardless of the Sanofi deal, will be seen as positive for the US firm.

Positive Ph III Afresa data boosts share price

The response to data from the latest Afresa trials reported at this year’s American Diabetes Association’s scientific sessions is also likely to boost MannKind’s spirits and alleviate any lingering disappointment.

Results from a two-year Phase III study showed that there is no difference in forced expiratory volumes (FEV) between patients treated with Afresca compared with standard insulin.

The news saw MannKind's share price climb 15 per cent to a 52-week high of $8.12 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange late last week.

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