Sanofi Gears Up for Second Round of Innovation Awards Grants

Published: Jun 27, 2016

Sanofi Gears Up for Second Round of Innovation Awards Grants June 27, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

BOSTON – When it comes to developing therapies for rare diseases, sometimes drug makers have to think outside of the box. And that’s something Sanofi has done with its innovation awards program.

The awards program widens Sanofi’s research and development strategy in the form of seed investments with early stage research being conducted at some of the nation’s top biomedical institutes. The France-based company, which has a strong rare disease pipeline, launched its awards program last year to fund preclinical work that is “translatable into ideas that can help patients,” Jim Burns, head of Sanofi’s North America R& D hub in Boston, told BioSpace in an exclusive interview.

“Sanofi is innovative about innovation,” Burns said of the three year-long initiative program.

Sanofi launched its innovation awards program last year, providing 24 research proposals with $100,000 in funding. Funding went to researchers at some of the most prestigious institutes, including Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. Before receiving the grants, the researchers submitted a proposal to a cross-organizational steering committee that includes representatives from other institutions as well as Sanofi.

“It’s not just about the money. We identify people internally who can be partners of the researchers or provide them access to (necessary) equipment. They can also collaborate with them,” Burns said.

Now that the first year is up, Burns said the company will meet with the researchers to check in on their progress. When it comes to research, Burns said $100,000 is not a lot of money, but it’s “enough to see what is there.” Burns said he could not comment on the type of research the recipients of the $100,000 grants are conducting, but said it is in line with what Sanofi researchers are working on. He said areas the researchers are exploring potential therapy targets that include rare genetic diseases, neurological diseases, infectious disease as well as cardiovascular. Sanofi’s strength in rare disease research was due to its $20 billion acquisition of Cambridge, Mass.-based Genzyme in 20111.

“If the work is promising, we will make a decision to continue funding or bring it in-house,” Burns said.

Burns sad Sanofi has plans to set aside about $3 million each year to fund these innovation projects. The company is beginning to receive proposals for its next round of innovation awards and Burns said he expects Sanofi will fund about 22 research projects, although Burns said the decision is still in the hands of the steering committee.

In addition to providing seed money for these preclinical research projects, Sanofi is also involved with funding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs at UMass Boston to be a better community partner and also to bolster a potential talent pool for future hiring.

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