Zealand, underwhelmed by Sanofi's Soliqua sales, plans to ride solo on future launches

After partnering with Sanofi on diabetes drug Soliqua, Zealand pharma plans to launch rare disease drug glepaglutide on its own. (Sanofi)

Zealand Pharma’s Big Pharma marketing partnership for diabetes drug Soliqua has left it wanting. So much so, in fact, that it’s planning to go it alone when it comes to future launches.

Sanofi, which is hawking Soliqua, “has said that this doesn’t live up to their expectations. … They had hoped and believed it would be easier to convince the doctors,” CEO Britt Meelby Jensen told Reuters at the company’s headquarters on the outskirts of Copenhagen.

After a January launch, Sanofi reported $17 million in Soliqua sales for the first nine months of last year. And Zealand is getting just 10% in royalties on that disappointing haul, Jensen said.

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So from here on out, it’ll be riding solo in the launch department, starting with the rollout of glepaglutide. The drug, which treats the rare disease short bowel syndrome, will head into phase 3 trials this year.

“If we give up control to a pharma company we will be evaluated against their internal portfolio and there is a risk of you getting assigned to a lower priority,” Jensen said.

Of course, navigating a partnerless launch is a lot easier in the rare-disease field than it is in a crowded, Big Pharma-dominated space such as diabetes. Zealand estimates that with a launch in 2021 or 2022, glepaglutide can take “a majority” of the $1 billion U.S. short bowel syndrome market.

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And the price to play is much lower, too. “It is much more interesting” to get “the full revenue rather than 10%,” Jensen said. “We can do that within rare diseases where investments for getting it to the market are at a lower level than within diabetes.”

That’s not to say the Danish drugmaker is giving up hope for Soliqua. The drug is facing stiff competition in Novo Nordisk’s Xultophy, despite having beaten that product to market. But “we are in dialogue with Sanofi and there is no doubt that they still see it as a strategic important product,” Jensen said.