Sanofi-Aventis, which is looking to buy Genzyme Corp across the pond, has announced a restructuring in the USA which will see a 25% cut in its pharmaceutical workforce there.

Some 1,700 positions are to be eliminated, out of 6,900 pharma staff, as part of the company’s "ongoing transformation to better respond to patients and customers in a challenging healthcare marketplace". About 1,400 of the jobs will be sales rep positions and the cuts will be finalised by mid-December.

Sanofi, which said that it continues to "shift resources to strategic priorities, improve efficiencies and simplify infrastructure", will now focus on just diabetes, atrial fibrillation and oncology in the USA. The move is necessary in part to deal with the impact of patent expiries on the antithrombotic Lovenox (enoxaparin), the cancer drug Taxotere (docetaxel) and, next year, the blockbuster bloodthinner Plavix (clopidogrel).

Gregory Irace, president of Sanofi's pharmaceutical operations in North America, said “this step in our transformation strategy will expedite decision-making, reduce business complexities and increase innovation". He added that “given the serious challenges facing our organisation and the healthcare industry, it is important to act decisively now" so that Sanofi has "greater stability moving forward and that our resources are allocated to our strategic growth priorities".

The cuts are part of a 2 billion euro cost-reduction plan announced by the French drugmaker in July last year. The company has not revealed what costs it will incur to implement these latest cuts.

Iniparib prolongs survival in advanced triple negative breast cancer patients

In happier news for Sanofi, the firm has presented the final results from a 123-women Phase II study at the European Society for Medical Oncology meeting in Milan which confirmed that iniparib, in combination with gemcitabine/carboplatin significantly prolonged overall survival in women with metastatic triple negative breast cancer (mTNBC), compared with chemotherapy alone.

Median overall survival among those who received iniparib, also known as BSI-201, in combination with chemotherapy was 12.3 months, compared with 7.7 months among patients on chemotherapy alone, while median progression-free survival in the iniparib group was 5.9 months, versus 3.6 months. Sanofi also noted  that 55.7% of patients on the combo showed a clinical benefit (a complete or partial response or stable disease of at least six months) compared with 33.9% of women who only received chemotherapy.

Debasish Roychowdhury, senior vice president of global oncology at Sanofi, said the PARP- I inhibitor" continues to demonstrate potential as a promising new treatment option for women with metastatic triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive disease that currently has no approved treatments," He added that a development of BSI 201 is progressing well "and we hope iniparib can become the first treatment available specifically for this disease".

Phase III trials are ongoing and regulatory submissions are planned in the USA during the first quarter of 2011, and in Europe the following quarter.