Sanofi's (>> Sanofi) promising pipeline of experimental drugs can help it overcome setbacks including the low uptake of a new cholesterol treatment and concerns about a dengue vaccine, the French pharmaceuticals group said on Wednesday.
The world's sixth largest drugmaker, battling to contain the fallout from a safety row in the Philippines over dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, said it expected to file nine medicines for regulatory assessment in the next 18 months.
Shares in Sanofi were down 0.77 percent at 1510 GMT.
Some investors have voiced discontent with the group's product pipeline and its failure to make a large acquisition since it appointed Olivier Brandicourt as chief executive in 2015.
Sanofi is under pressure to stand out in research and development as its diabetes division still has to overcome pricing constraints in the United States, the world's largest health market, where its blockbuster insulin medication Lantus has lost its patent.
In opening remarks at a company investor day, Brandicourt said the group was "on track" to sell its European generic drugs unit in "the coming year", a long-awaited deal which could be worth more than 2 billion euros ($2.35 billion), sources say.
"We are making good progress overall on our roadmap and I am confident that Sanofi now is much better positioned to deliver the sustained and long term growth that our shareholders are expecting from us," he said.
The company said in November 2015 its five-year strategic plan would see six key launches likely to generate peak sales of 12 billion to 14 billion euros by 2025.
One of them, Dengvaxia, is proving disappointing after findings the vaccine could, in some cases, increase the risk of severe dengue in recipients not previously infected by the virus.
Once touted as a $1 billion-a-year blockbuster product, Dengvaxia's initial sales last year were only 55 million euros.
Hurdles to patient access by health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers have also led to disappointing sales in Sanofi's new cholesterol drug Praluent.
"When I turn to delivering outstanding launches, I concede that our record over the past two years has been mixed," Brandicourt said. "While we are not changing our ambition of combined peak sales, we are clearly much more reliant on our immunology franchise."
In immunology, Sanofi has been concentrating on "multi-targeting" drugs that have the potential to treat more than one disease.
One example is dupilumab, which was developed with U.S partner Regeneron (>> Regeneron Pharmaceuticals) and for which it has secured approval in the United States and Europe to treat eczema. The drug is also expected to have further uses in asthma, nasal polyps, eosinophilic esophagitis and food allergies.
"Phase 3 development for dupilumab is now planned in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)," Sanofi said.
Sanofi, whose shares have underperformed major rivals, reiterated its strategy to rebuild its position in cancer and said it expected a first regulatory submission of its monoclonal antibody for relapsed refractory multiple myeloma in 2018.
The drug will compete with Genmab's (>> Genmab) and Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) (>> Johnson & Johnson) Darzalex which is already on the market.
The Cancer Research Institute said last week the race to come up with new immunotherapy treatments for cancer had sparked an unprecedented expansion in the oncology drug pipeline, with more than 2,000 immune-system-boosting agents in development.
The result is a scramble for patients to enrol in clinical trials, duplication of effort and the likely ultimate failure of many projects, according to experts.
Asked if Sanofi had the means to pursue its strategy in multiple indications while some other players have opted to focus on niche products or key drugs, Brandicourt said Sanofi had made a clear choice to remain diversified.
"There is no miracle recipe," he said. "But given the risks in the industry, we came to the conclusion that being active in one therapeutic area only was dangerous."
($1 = 0.8505 euros)
(Editing by Edmond Blair and Mark Potter)
By Matthias Blamont