Sanofi has sold the US rights to five products, including the prostate cancer treatment Nilandron and Rilutek for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to Switzerland's Covis Pharma.

As well as Nilandron (nilutamide) and Rilutek (riluzole), Covis will sell the antimalarial  Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), which is also prescribed for lupus and rheumatic disorders, Uroxatral (alfuzosin) for benign prostatic hyperplasia and Kayexalate (sodium polystyrene) for high blood potassium. The financial details of the deal have not been disclosed but the aggregate sales for these products in the USA in 2012 were $114.6 million.

Sanofi will retain the rights in countries outside the USA and manufacture the products for Covis. The latter's chief executive Jack Davis said the Zug-headquartered firm "will continue to supply consistent, top quality, branded pharmaceuticals, ensuring that patients receive the therapeutic care they need".

Merrimack drug fails in NSCLC trial

Meantime, Sanofi's partner Merrimack Pharmaceuticals announced late last week that a Phase II trial of its experimental cancer drug MM-121, which the French drugmaker licensed in 2009, failed to meet its primary endpoint.

Top-line results were published from the study which evaluated MM-121 in combination with Roche's Tarceva (erlotinib) for patients with non-small cell lung cancer whose disease progressed on an anti-EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor. The primary endpoint was to obtain a 40% progression-free survival rate at four months of treatment.

Akos Czibere, senior medical director of the MM-121 programme at Merrimack, said "we are disappointed by the overall clinical results in this population, but are encouraged by our preliminary biomarker analysis". MM-121 is being evaluated in two additional NSCLC cohorts as well as Phase II studies for advanced ovarian cancer, hormone-receptor positive breast cancer and HER2 negative breast cancer.