Amid Lantus furor, Sanofi restructures

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Sanofi-Aventis tops the news again today, this time with more details of its restructuring plan. The French drugmaker will shutter four facilities in its home country and sell a fifth, with plans to close down locations in Japan, the U.S., U.K. and Spain as well. Though no layoffs are planned, the company is asking employees to take voluntary buyouts. Officials said they've set no target for the number of jobs shed. Meanwhile, Sanofi will hone its R&D operations by focusing on fewer disease targets and lining up partnerships rather than adding in-house research programs.

If Sanofi had plenty of reason to restructure last week, it has even more reason now. As you know, generic competition is set to eat away at revenues, and the company has few drugs ready to fill the gap. And one of those few up-and-coming stars, the diabetes remedy Lantus, has been hit with safety concerns. As we reported yesterday, European researchers have linked Lantus to a potential increase in cancer risk. Though questions about that data remain--and regulators and patient advocates as well as Sanofi have urged doctors to hang tight--patients are already demanding changes in their treatment.

What's next? While the company totes up costs for its voluntary buyouts--numbers are promised by July 29--and consolidates operations, it's also aiming to clear the air on Lantus. CEO Chris Viehbacher (photo) called the new research "junk science" and announced that he would assemble a panel of experts to help design a study testing whether Lantus actually does boost cancer risks.  The recent studies "don't even begin to answer the major scientific questions posed as to the role of insulin, diabetes, obesity and cancer," Viehbacher said.

Doctors told Reuters that Lantus shouldn't be written off on the basis of this new data. Scientists have long known that insulin might affect cancer-cell growth. "This not an emergency. This is just a question we have to answer now," said Dr. R. Paul Robertson, president of the American Diabetes Association and a diabetes researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle. He went on to say, "When I have patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, I give that drug. It's been very effective." 

- see Sanofi's release
- read the Bloomberg news
- get more from Reuters
- check out the Bloomberg story on Lantus

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