Lantus cancer link research flawed says Sanofi; mulls R&D restructuring

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sanofi-aventis, Sanofi

Sanofi-Aventis has moved to defend its long-acting diabetes treatment Lantus (insulin glargine) and says that recent research linking it to the development of cancer is of “poor quality.”

Sanofi CEO Chris Viebacher made the comments earlier this week after a study published last Friday in Diabetologia​, the journal of European Association for the study of diabetes, linked the drug tumour development.

The study findings are based on the retrospective analyses of three European trials. In one German assessment, risk of cancer was up to 31 per cent higher in Lantus patients than in those using human insulin.

A Swedish study also included in the analysis showed that risk of breast cancer doubled in Lantus users compared with those using alternate diabetes drugs, although the number of cases were small. A UK study also covered by the research showed that there was no link between Lantus and increased cancer risk.

The authors themselves admitted that the results are inconclusive. They told the Wall Street Journal​ that patients in the studies were generally older, overweight and hypertensive and that “any difference in cancer risk could be attributed to [these] pre-treatment characteristics.”

Nevertheless, Sanofi has been hit hard by criticism of one of its biggest products. The French drug giant’s share price fell around 14 per cent over the last week

Viebacher said that: "There are big scientific questions here that have been assessed for a number of years and to try to resolve them with a couple of quick and dirty patient registries does not do justice to the importance of these scientific questions.”

He added that Sanofi plans to fully investigate the issue but is yet to decide on the format for any potential clinical trial.

The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) said that the research is inconclusive and that any link between Lantus and cancer risk cannot be either “confirmed or excluded​.”

Voluntary Sanofi staff cuts?

The news about Lantus broke just days before Sanofi announced a large-scale overhaul of its R&D operations.

Sanofi’s plan involves offering an unspecified number of its French employees voluntary redundancy packages and the closure of four, possibly five, of its R&D sites in the country.

The firm may also sell off preclinical research laboratories it owns in the UK, the US, Japan and Spain, although further details are yet to emerge.

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