MannKind recruits Sanofi to hawk Afrezza in $925M marketing deal

MannKind's Afrezza is delivered through a proprietary inhaler called Dreamboat.--Courtesy of MannKind

MannKind ($MNKD) has adopted an "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" strategy for its newly approved Afrezza. Instead of going up against diabetes giants the likes of Sanofi ($SNY), MannKind is joining hands with the French drugmaker in a marketing partnership worth up to $925 million.

Sanofi will fork over $150 million upfront for Afrezza and up to $775 million more if the med hits certain sales and development targets, the companies said Monday. The pair will share global profits and losses, with Sanofi taking 65%. The Paris-based pharma has also agreed to advance to MannKind its share of the collaboration's expenses, with a ceiling of $175 million.

For Sanofi, which already boasts the world's best-selling diabetes med in Lantus, Afrezza is an addition to a well-stocked insulin therapy lineup. But while the company may be well-versed in the way of diabetes marketing, that doesn't mean selling Afrezza will be easy. The new drug will take on mealtime insulins NovoLog from Novo Nordisk ($NVO) and Humalog from Eli Lilly ($LLY), both blockbusters in their own right.

And then there's the looming specter of Pfizer's ($PFE) inhaled insulin Exubera, a one-time-blockbuster-hopeful-turned-colossal-flop that Pfizer yanked from the market back in 2007. Sanofi reps will have to convince doctors that Afrezza, unlike its predecessor, can get the job done.

MannKind CEO Al Mann

The newcomer therapy does have at least one leg up on Pfizer's failure in its Dreamboat inhaler--a coach's whistle-shaped device that makes Exubera's larger, bulkier predecessor look like the Titanic. Back in the day, Exubera patients were also put off by the need for periodic lung function tests, Reuters notes.

Regardless of how rocky the road ahead may be, MannKind CEO Alfred Mann said he was  "so very pleased and honored" to have Sanofi on board, calling it a perfect match to help his company on its quest for the $1 billion in sales that analysts predict by 2019.

"Sanofi is the ideal partner given their complementary product portfolio, their vast insulin market presence and a leading global commercial infrastructure," he said in a statement.

- read the release
- see Reuters' take

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