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Sanofi banks on inhaled insulin

Sanofi is banking on inhaled insulin as an alternative to daily injections for diabetics. The French drugmaker has struck a multi-million licensing deal with US-based MannKind.

Sanofi secured the rights Monday for the world's only available inhaled insulin in a $925-million (691 million-euro) deal with the California-based biopharmaceutical company MannKind.

The announcement was made less than seven weeks after MannKind won regulatory approval in the US for the drug, Afrezza.

"Afrezza is a further addition to our growing portfolio of integrated diabetes solutions," Pierre Chancel, senior vice president of Sanofi's diabetes division, said in a statement. "It is uniquely positioned to provide patients with another insulin therapy option to manage their diabetes but does not require multiple daily injections."

Investment in diabetes treatments

The agreement is the latest example of Paris-based Sanofi exploring novel ways of treating diabetes.

In June, the company had also entered into a diabetes-related deal with medical device manufacturer Medtronic, vowing to improve adherence and simplify insulin treatment.

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Fighting diabetes

Market analysts believe Sanofi is looking for ways to hold onto its No. 2 spot in the global diabetes market, as its top-selling drug Lantus, the world's most prescribed insulin, is expected to lose patent protection next year.

Sanofi will have the right to develop and market Afrezza for adults with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, and will take a 65-percent cut of any sales-related profits or losses.

Meanwhile, MannKind will get 35 percent and receive up to $150 million in advance. It may also collect further milestone payments of up to $775 million, depending on the drug's commercial success.

The partners aim to launch Afrezza, marketed as an inhalation powder, in the US during the first quarter of 2015. Industry analysts expect Afrezza to generate sales of about $1 billion by 2019, according to consensus forecasts compiled by Thomson Reuters Pharma.

Aradigm CEO Richard Thompson demonstrates insulin inhaler in 2002 (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Several companies, such as Aradigm, worked on inhalable insulin in the early 2000s, but these were later withdrawn

A warning box and whistle-sized inhaler

Afrezza is delivered before mealtimes via a whistle-sized inhaler and, according to the two companies, acts more rapidly than injectable insulins.

Although the drug was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late June, Sanofi and MannKind have warned of the risk of acute bronchospasm, or constriction of the airways of the lung, in patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Consequently, the FDA has required further testing to ensure that Afrezza's benefits outweigh any potential risks.

Approximately 382 million people worldwide were living with diabetes last year, and that number is expected to rise to 592 million by 2035, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

el/cjc (Reuters, AFP)

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