Sanofi-Aventis has hit the acquisition trail again after agreeing to buy French eye disease specialist Fovea in a deal valued at 370 million euros.

The takeover of the privately-held Paris-based company includes an immediate undisclosed upfront payment and subsequent milestones payments related to the development of three compounds. Those three are led by FOV 1101, a fixed-dose combination of prednisolone and cyclosporine, which is in Phase II for the treatment of persistent allergic conjunctivitis.

In addition, FOV 2302, an intravitreal formulation of a plasma kallikrein inhibitor, is in Phase I for the treatment of retinal vein occlusion induced macular oedema, while FOV 2304, a potent antagonist of bradykinin B1 receptors, “active by eye drop”, is scheduled to enter in Phase I by November 2009 for the treatment of diabetic macular oedema.

Sanofi chief executive Chris Viehbacher said that the acquisition of Fovea “is a further step in our company's goal to focus on new approaches to strengthen our R&D portfolio”. He added that “the very promising and dynamically growing ophthalmic area” represent a major opportunity for Sanofi”.

On a busy morning for Sanofi, the French drugmaker also announced that it has licensed Merrimack Pharmaceuticals’ MM-121, a human monoclonal antibody which is Phase I trials seeking to target solid tumours, in a deal worth up to $530 million.

Under the terms of the agreement, Sanofi will pay Merrimack, a privately-held company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an upfront cash payment of $60 million and the latter could could also receive development and regulatory milestones of up to $410 million on MM-121 as well as royalties. Merrimack will also get performance payments of as much as $60 million on worldwide sales.

MM-121 is a first-in-class treatment designed to block signalling of the ErbB3 (also known as HER3) receptor, for the management of solid malignancies. Sanofi’s R&D chief Marc Cluzel said that the drug “brings a new innovative approach” to the company’s oncology portfolio.

Finally, Sanofi said it has successfully completed the placement of two euro notes issues worth 1.5 billion euros.

The five-year notes issue is for a principal amount of 700 million euros, with a coupon of 3.125% and the 10-year notes are worth 800 million euros (at 4.125%). The placements follow the 3 billion euros of four-year and seven-year notes issued in May.

Sanofi said that “the very positive response to these offerings…confirms the confidence of debt investors in the prospects of the group”.