PARIS (Reuters) - Sanofi announced plans to invest 600 million euros ($673 million) annually over the next two to three years in the field of biologics production, an area of strong growth potential.
In contrast to most drugs that are chemically synthesized, many biologics are produced using living cells. They are seen as a promising answer in cardiovascular, neurology and cancer diseases.
Experts say they also provide means to treat a variety of medical illnesses and conditions that have no other treatments available. But they are also more expensive than traditional products.
In March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi's biologic drug for eczema, Dupixent, that will sell for a list price of $37,000 a year.
Philippe Luscan, executive vice president of global industrial affairs at the French drugmaker, told reporters on Wednesday the investments would follow 3.3 billion euros already spent in this area in the last five years - representing the lion's share of total investment in production of 4.7 billion euros.
Earlier this year, Sanofi and Swiss manufacturer Lonza said they would spend 270 million euros by 2020 on a new large-scale biologics facility that will produce monoclonal antibodies.
"In 2012, 43 percent of our pipeline was made of biologics. The figure stood at around 60 percent in 2016 and in 2020, it will increase even more," Luscan said.
Figures compiled by EvaluatePharma show conventional drugs still represented 70 percent of the top 100 medications sold worldwide before 2010, but that the proportion would narrow to 50 percent as soon as around 2022.
Such projections do not automatically translate into higher volume sales for drugmakers because of a high potential for production problems and patent disputes in a competitive segment of the industry.
In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court cut the time it will take for copycat versions of biologic drugs to get to the market in a pivotal ruling on Monday.
The ruling has major implications for the pharmaceutical sector because it will dictate how long brand-name makers of biologic drugs can keep near-copies, called biosimilars, off the market.
Sanofi had no immediate comment on the ruling.
Editing by Andrew Callus