Drug maker Sanofi offers glimpse into world of pharma research - Inside Tucson Business: News

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Drug maker Sanofi offers glimpse into world of pharma research

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Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012 12:00 pm

A top pharmaceutical company with a research facility in Oro Valley opened its doors to visitors this week for a peek into the inner workings of the drug research process.

Sanofi’s Tucson Research Center, 2090 E. Innovation Park Drive, stands at the leading edge of the international company’s research and development process. Here, Sanofi chemists produce molecules and run them through a gauntlet of experiments, the ultimate goal of which is to create new drug therapies.

“Sanofi has been able to diversify from a drug company to a diversified healthcare company,” said Marc Bonnefoi, head of Sanofi’s North American Research and Development Hub.

Sanofi, headquartered in Paris, has developed numerous pharmaceutical products, including the drugs in products like Ambien, Plavix and Allegra.

Through acquisitions, the company also owns many over-the-counter products like IcyHot, Gold Bond and Selsun Blue.

Bonnefoi said the company currently has at least 61 drugs in its research pipeline with 17 new products likely ready for market by 2015.

This year, the company plans to release four new drug products.

Chemists and researchers at the Oro Valley site work at the Genesis of the drug discovery process. But to move from the laboratory to the market place the process could take as long as 12 years and cost $1 billion.

“Drug discovery isn’t rocket science, it’s actually a lot harder,” said Kenneth Wertman, vice president and site research director for the Sanofi Tucson Research Center.

In addition to the complexities involved in drug research, the process is high risk as well. As many as 50 percent of products don’t provide a return on investment, Wertman said. Added to that, a majority of drug-research projects fail.

Sanofi has been able to maximize its odds through volume, using a process that allows researchers to test more than 2 million molecules per month.

The process, know as combinatorial chemistry, was innovated by a University of Arizona spinoff company called Selectide Corporation. That company, which Wertman was an early part of, was later purchased by a larger firm that Sanofi eventually bought.

Combinatorial chemistry allows Sanofi researchers to rapidly and reliably produce large numbers of molecules, which it uses for drug development.

For example, among the drug therapies the company is currently working on include drugs to treat cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and hearing loss.

In Oro Valley, the company employs more 70 full-time workers.

It moved into the innovation Park location in 2009 from a smaller site off Oracle, also in Oro Valley.

It’s 110,000 square foot facility here was built to LEED Gold standards, a low energy and environmentally friendly rating set by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Worldwide, Sanofi has more than 100,000 employees, with research hubs in North America, Europe and Asia.

Its research and development budget in 2010 topped nearly $6 billion. Sales in 2010 were more than $37 billion.

In 2011 the company changed its name from Sanofi-Aventis to the simplified Sanofi. According to reports at the time, the second part of the name was dropped to facilitate pronunciation of the company name in emerging markets such as China.

(Note: This story was changed from an earlier version.)

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at pmcnamara@azbiz.com or (520) 295-4259.

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