PARIS, 1 May (APM) - Sanofi has paid out €3.95 billion in annual dividends to shareholders, much to the protest of workers union CGT, reported L'Humanite on Wednesday (p.26).
The CGT believes the money should have been re-invested in the company, to develop drugs to counter the worldwide pandemic. The union noted that the €100 million the company announced it was investing in drugs, hospitals, care homes and start-ups focusing on coronavirus testing to much pomp and ceremony, was a paltry sum compared to the amount of money some of its shareholders were to receive.
CGT union rep Jean-Louis Peyren also noted in the paper that the company's employees were paying for the generous dividend payouts. He stated that Sanofi had told employees that when the government backed scheme providing paid time off to employees with children finished on 1 May, employees concerned must either use up their paid holiday allowance or take unpaid leave.
The left-leaning paper stated that the pharma's 'penny-wise, pound foolish' economic strategy focused on short-term profitability has never been so contested. It also noted that a reduction in anti-infection drugs and a cut in R&D posts has meant the pharma has fewer anti-Covid-19 paths to explore now.
However, Sanofi saw sales rise almost 7% in the first quarter of 2020 to €8.9 billion.
Sanofi's Covid-19 gamble
Sanofi is hoping to make a profit during the coronavirus, reported Les Echos on Monday (p.20).
The group has signed several agreements on potential vaccines, notably with Translate Bio and GlaxoSmithKline. Clinical trials are set to start at the end of the year and approval by the end of 2021. Sanofi is also collaborating with U.S. BARDA (Biomedical advanced research and developmental authority) to apply the technology it acquired from its acquisition of Protein Sciences in 2017.
Sanofi believes that once one of its vaccines is approved before end of 2021 it will be able to produce a billion doses within 12 months. But as economists have pointed out - will a vaccine still be necessary then?
Sanofi's drugs are already playing a significant role during the crisis - not that the group will benefit hugely profit-wise. Sales of the company's paracetamol based Doliprane have soared by over 20% in the first quarter as it is the only drug recommended to reduce the fever associated with Covid-19.
However, despite the huge increase in sales, as it is an old drug, it resulted in sales of €95 million only.
It is similar story for Sanofi'ss Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) - which is being evaluated in several trials worldwide.
However, the company's Kevzara (sarilumab) could prove profitable. A clinical trial has been launched to evaluate it in patients with severe Covid-19. Its rival - Roche's RoActemra (tocilizumab) - has reported positive initial results and has seen sales increase 30% to €687 million.
Roche's RoActemra looks promising in Covid-19
Roche's RoActemra (tocilizumab) has had positive results in patients with Covid-19 linked severe pneumonia, reported Le Parisien on Tuesday (p.11).
The drug - given to 65 patients with severe Covid-19 - significantly reduced the number of patients who had to go to intensive care units (ICU) or who died, compared with standard care involving oxygen and antibiotics.
The trial started on 30 March and the initial results have been promising in several hospitals across France that were involved in the trial.
This is good news, said several unnamed doctors interviewed by the daily, but they were wary of "shouting victory" over the disease given that these were the results of just one trial.
Doctor Gilles Pialoux - interviewed and named by Le Parisien - noted that other ongoing trials should confirm RoActemra's efficacy against coronavirus, including in patients already in ICUs. However, he noted that in his opinion several types of drug will be needed to combat coronavirus as prevention against the disease is needed as well as cures.
Several other newspapers commented on the story including Les Echos (p.4) and Le Figaro (p.12) on Tuesday and La Croix (p.26) on Wednesday.
Clinical trials for Covid-19 treatments fall into two groups
The ongoing clinical trials for potential Covid-19 treatments can be divided into two groups: those to treat the disease itself and those to treat the cytotoxic shock it can cause, reported Les Echos on Monday (p.20).
Ongoing trials with Gilead's remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine and AbbVie's Kaletra (lopinavir+ ritonavir) fall into the first group, while those for Roche's RoActemra (tocilizumab), Sanofi's Kevzara (sarilumab) and Novartis' Jakavi (ruxolitinib) fall into the latter.
Preliminary results of these still ongoing trials have been mixed - remdesivir has had both negative and positive and it does not look good for Kaletra, but RoActemra seems to have a positive impact in patients with a severe form of the disease. However, caution about drawing any solid conclusions is recommended until the final results of these trials are published.
Le Figaro also commented on these ongoing trials on Monday (p.9).
Bayer hardens position over RoundUp payouts due to Covid-19 pandemic
Bayer is hardening its position over glyphosate-based RoundUp payments due to the coronavirus pandemic, reported Le Figaro on Tuesday (p.36).
The company has said that it will not sign any agreement with plaintiffs that is not financially reasonable, stating that this decision is due to the context of an imminent recession and significant cash issues.
The paper pointed out that Bayer is still paying a big price in terms of reputation and legal cases - there are now 52,000 plaintiffs in the U.S. alone - for buying Monsanto for €60 billion three years ago.
However, Le Figaro also pointed out that the company has had a good start to the year with its quarterly sales up 5.8% to €12.8 billion.
Bayer is getting fully involved in the fight against coronavirus, having gifted €1 billion to the French foundation for the scientific research Pasteur Institute and Paris hospitals. It also delivered three million doses of its chloroquine-based drug Resochin to the U.S. end March.
Pharnext uses big data and AI to research Covid-19 treatments
French biotech Pharnext is using big gene data and artificial intelligence to test previously approved drugs as potential Covid-19 drugs, reported Les Echos on Monday (p.25).
The company has already identified 79 candidate drugs - some of which are antivirals but the majority of which are cheap, regularly used drugs for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or used as anti-inflammatories.
However, the company - which is working with the Mediterranean infection university hospital institute (IHU) in Marseille - emphasised in the paper that it will not monetise its results, insisting that its aim is solidary.
The IHU is set to begin in vitro tests on 20 of the candidate drugs identified by Pharnext supported by scientific literature.
Phost'in Therapeutics raises €10.3 million for solid tumour drug
Phost'in Therapeutics has raised €10.3 million in a funding round to develop its solid tumour drug, reported Les Echos on Monday (p.25).
The company is targeting highly aggressive cancers - such as glioblastomas or triple negative breast cancer - by attacking the process which stops cancer cells being detected by the immune system and encourages the spread of cancer cells.