Sanofi has linked up with Lead Pharma of the Netherlands to develop drugs for a broad range of autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease.

The pact will focus on therapies directed against the nuclear hormone receptors called ROR gamma (t) which drives the production of key pro-inflammatory proteins including interleukin-17A, IL-17F and the receptor for IL-23. Sanofi and Lead say they have a goal of identifying drug candidates and beginning human trials within three-four years.

Financial details were not disclosed but the Dutch biotech will receive an upfront payment and is eligible for the usual development, regulatory and commercial milestones, plus royalties. Christian Antoni, head of Sanofi’s immunology and inflammation R&D, said that “anti-ROR gamma (t) therapies represent a ground-breaking opportunity that we are eager and motivated to pursue”.

Meantime still no official announcement from Paris about Sanofi’s new chief executive but numerous news sources, notably Bloomberg, say Olivier Brandicourt, head of Bayer’s healthcare business could be crowned in the newt few days. The Frenchman has been one of the front-runners for the post since Chris Viehbacher was sacked in October.