New drug partnerships in Cuba? Regeneron's chief will be on the spot

Regeneron CEO Len Schleifer

As tensions begin to ease between the U.S. and Cuba, partnership opportunities may arise for stateside drugmakers--and Regeneron ($REGN) CEO Len Schleifer is heading down to the country to help get the ball rolling.

Schleifer will join New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on a trade mission later this month, a trip that will mark the first visit from a U.S. governor since President Barack Obama lifted travel restrictions to the country in January, Bloomberg reports.

"Len was asked by the governor to join the mission given he leads the state's largest biotechnology company and has a long commitment to supporting New York state growth and development," Regeneron spokeswoman Hala Mirza told the news service.

That's something of an understatement: Regeneron has been among the fastest-growing biotech companies in recent years, fueled by its blockbuster eye treatment Eylea. With a highly touted PCSK9 inhibitor now on tap, that growth seems sure to continue. To support all that growth, Regeneron has invested heavily in facilities in New York, adding hundreds of jobs in the process.

Cuba, whose government sponsors its biopharma industry, has backed domestic companies with the hopes of producing drugs for export--meaning U.S. companies may be able to find ways to get involved. Regeneron, for one, has plenty of experience teaming up: It co-markets Eylea with Germany's Bayer, and in the way of R&D, it shares a pact with Sanofi ($SNY) that's yielded a colon cancer med, Zaltrap. Sanofi is also Regeneron's partner on that promising PCSK9 drug, Praluent (alirocumab).

Latin America has so far proved an important part of many drugmakers' growth strategies--including American giants Pfizer ($PFE) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ). In 2010, Pfizer bought Brazil's Teuto to gain access to that company's brands in its own country, as well as distribution and marking reach for its own meds. As part of an emerging markets push, J&J recently set up R&D and manufacturing centers in Brazil, as well.

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