Selecta in Development Deal with Sanofi Worth up to $900 Million

Xconomy Boston — 

[Updated 11/28/12, 11:04 a.m.]Selecta Biosciences, one of the many startups to emerge from the lab of famed MIT bioengineer Robert Langerreported today that it scored a development deal with Paris-based Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) that includes potential milestone payments of up to $300 million each for new drugs for three life-threatening allergies.

The Watertown, MA-based startup said in a statement that not only will it be eligible for those payments, based on pre-clinical, clinical, regulatory, and sales milestone for as many as three new drug candidates, but it can also earn tiered royalties should any of the drugs make it to the market.

As reported in Xconomy, Selecta was co-founded in 2008 by Langer along with Omid Farokhzad and Ulrich von Andrian, both of Harvard Medical School, to commercialize their work on polymer nanoparticles. The startup is developing vaccines made of the nanoparticles, which are meant to stop damaging autoimmune responses such as allergy attacks without harming the immune system. Its lead product is a smoking cessation vaccine, SEL-068, currently in a Phase 1 clinical trial.

The Sanofi deal calls for the two companies to work together to design vaccines for life-threatening and other severe allergies, although Selecta did not specify which ones. Selecta will work with researchers at Sanofi’s large Boston-based facility. [Interview with Selecta CEO added to provide further details on the relationship between Sanofi and Selecta.] Selecta CEO Werner Cautreels told me in a phone interview today that Sanofi became interested in working with his company after an internal review led them to decide that “antigen-specific immunotherapies that meet unmet needs would be very important to them.”

Werner says the science is still in very early phases and so the collaboration has no firm deadlines as of yet. The terms call for the two teams to work closely together from the earliest development stages, right down to designing both the polymer nanoparticles and the animal models for testing them.

Sanofi won’t be alien territory for Cautreels as he worked for the French pharma giant earlier in his 27-year career. He was named Selecta’s first CEO in April 2010, and previously had been CEO of Solvay Pharmaceuticals until its acquisition by Abbott Laboratories in February 2010.

Selecta has done well with development deals since Cautreels arrived, signing a $25 million deal in October of 2011 with Rusnano, a Russian Federation Fund that supports nanotechnology startups, and in June of that year receiving prestigious backing from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The startup has raised $79.85 million since its founding, from Orbimed Advisors, Polaris Venture Partners, Flagship Ventures, NanoDimension, and Leukon Investments.

Selecta now has about 35 employees in Watertown and another 10 in Moscow, where Selecta just opened its Russian office today, to work more close with Rusnano.

“When I looked into joining Selecta two years ago I was very impressed by a number of factors about this technology,” Cautreels told me. “It is a platform technology that can address a number of different diseases, and antigen-specific immunotherapy is clearly something with a very high degree of interest from a medical need point of view.” Sanofi’s confidence as expressed by this deal, he says, confirms his personal conviction about the potential of the technology.