• Sanofi’s new CEO announced that the company will discontinue new drug research in the diabetes space.
  • The company will continue to sell and support its existing insulin brands, but is nixing the planned launch of its new GLP-1 inhibitor for T2 diabetes, known as Efpeglenatide.
  • The Onduo “diabetes virtual clinic” that was a Sanofi joint venture will continue to grow with its partner Verily.
  • JDRF is counting on continued Sanofi involvement in type 1 diabetes prevention and immunotherapy research.

Word is that Sanofi, one of the U.S. “big three” insulin manufacturers and diabetes-focused pharma companies, is calling it quits on research into new diabetes medications.

Sanofi’s new CEO Paul Hudson communicated this in a new strategy announcement earlier this week, saying the France-based pharma giant would end its diabetes and cardiovascular research divisions and streamline or re-think its focus on those areas. Instead, Sanofi will turn its attention and efforts to other key priority areas to “drive innovation and growth” for the company.

But to be clear, Sanofi is not abandoning everything in the diabetes sphere: It will continue making its insulin products Lantus, Apidra, Admelog and Toujeo, and will still be pursuing diabetes technology advancements for those products it has on the market.

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson

“We are proud of our past, what we did and what we achieved, but it shouldn’t dictate some poor investment decisions because we’re still looking backwards,” Hudson said during public remarks, which came on his 100th day at the helm of Sanofi.

It’s well-known that Sanofi’s diabetes franchise has been struggling for several years, as the industry as a whole has faced price pressures in the U.S. Since the patent expired on Sanofi’s popular long-acting insulin Lantus — by far its most successful diabetes product — they’ve faced growing competition in that market. The company also hasn’t introduced any newer shorter-acting insulins since the launch of Apidra more than a decade ago.

What does this pull-back on diabetes research really mean?

“Sanofi’s strategy was just released and it will take time to implement,” spokesperson Jon Florio tells us at the ‘Mine. “At this stage, I do not have any additional information other than what has been released.”

Here’s what we know so far, as to the future of Sanofi’s involvement in diabetes:

While Sanofi won’t be bringing any new insulin formulations to market, they will continue supporting the above-mentioned brands already available.

The company will also likely continue pursuing diabetes-specific digital health tools — such as its September-announced partnership with Abbott for future integration of the Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring (FGM) technology with its connected insulin pens under development, and the Dec. 12-announced plan to bring the Mallya smart pen cap tech to the Sanofi SoloStar pen.

The latter was originally announced in July 2019, and it appears Sanofi isn’t giving up on bringing this to market in 2020.

In news coverage, Sanofi leadership says it “over-invested” in the diabetes care platform joint-venture with Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) known as Onduo back in 2016. While Sanofi will remain an investor, it will no longer be actively involved in running Onduo the way it has to date.

We reached out to Onduo for comment.

“Sanofi and Verily remain jointly committed to Onduo and providing support to people living with Type 2 diabetes,” VP of Marketing Lori Scanlon wrote in an email.

“While we do not comment on financial and ownership terms of partnered programs, we can share that Onduo is pursuing plans to expand the solution for use in chronic conditions beyond diabetes. Moving healthcare from reactive and episodic treatment to proactive and preventive care is central to both Verily and Onduo’s missions. This development reflects Verily’s profound commitment to mobile health and the Onduo Virtual Clinic.”

Verily also published a blog post stating that they will continue scaling up Onduo’s virtual care model without Sanofi’s involvement, building upon the earlier launch that now brings the service to 49 states in the U.S.

In late November, Onduo published real-world data gathered from 740 participants showing that 92% of those with higher starting-A1Cs saw a 2.3%-point decrease after using Onduo — from an average of 10.7% down to 8.3%. The data came from users in 21 states, with nearly a third in rural communities and nearly half being remotely prescribed and shipped CGMs (continuous glucose monitors) during the course of the study.

The bottom line is that Sanofi won’t be releasing any new insulins or diabetes drugs that may have been in the product pipeline.

This includes Sanofi nixing the planned launch of its blood sugar-lowering GLP-1 inhibitor for T2 diabetes, known as Efpeglenatide, a once-weekly medication aimed at extending the life of a peptide or protein in the body.

This was the most advanced diabetes treatment in Sanofi’s pipeline. CEO Hudson was candid about the reason for dropping it, citing the heavy investment required to catch up to competitors Lilly and Novo.

Now Sanofi and the original medication-developer Hanmi will look for partners to hand the drug off to for commercialization.

This is not too dissimilar to how things went with Afrezza inhaled insulin back in 2015, which Sanofi originally helped launch with MannKind but pulled away from in 2016. After ending the agreement, they handed the drug back to MannKind, and Afrezza remains on the market, now sold by that original developer.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” said JDRF’s VP of research Dr. Sanjoy Dutta. “It’s disappointing to us at JDRF, the patient community, and probably to the future innovations that will be removed here.”

Yet Sanofi won’t be 100% abandoning diabetes-impacting research, Dutta points out. As the company’s restructuring and streamlining its focus away from specific type 1 diabetes projects, it will still be involved in broader research on disease-modifying therapies in general.

JDRF says it is partnered with Sanofi on several programs in Europe and worldwide that explore prevention and addressing newly-diagnosed T1s using immunotherapies. Those efforts will continue via the Immunotherapy Division at Sanofi, versus the Diabetes and Cardiovascular Division that it’s scaling down.

“The structure of pharma can be misleading, so them getting out of diabetes in certain ways isn’t good… (but) I’m optimistic that we’ll still have them doing diabetes work, but maybe in a more curative and preventative way,” Dutta says.

He adds that there are other players beyond Big Pharma that can come in and fill some of the gap that Sanofi’s creating here.

“It’s never good to see a giant collapse, but I think it gives us room for more innovation and fresh thought from different players,” he said.