By Elena Berton
PARIS (Reuters) - Sanofi aims to build on its diabetes portfolio, which has so far relied on blockbuster insulin Lantus, with a wider range of treatments that could address not just the disease but also its numerous complications, its research head said on Thursday.
Elias Zerhouni would not say, however, whether these goals include an interest in acquiring Amylin Pharmaceuticals, a U.S. specialist in diabetes therapies.
"We used to be an insulin company, now we want to be a diabetes company," Zerhouni told reporters. "We want to offer an entire range of solutions."
According to people familiar with the situation, Sanofi is one of several drugmakers interested in Amylin, which makes diabetes drugs Byetta and Bydureon, and which received initial bids from buyers at the end of last week.
Both Byetta and Bydureon are in the same GLP-1 drug class as Sanofi's Lyxumia, a new experimental diabetes treatment which the French drugmaker hopes to file for approval with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Zerhouni said Lyxumia, which like Amylin's products works by prompting the release of insulin when a diabetic's blood glucose levels climb too high, remains a priority for Sanofi, saying that its development "continues at 100 percent".
Sanofi licensed rights to Lyxumia from Denmark's Zealand Pharma.
Among other potential treatments that could broaden Sanofi's diabetes portfolio, Zerhouni cited therapies to address diabetic retinopathy, a diabetes complication that can lead to blindness, or medicines that can treat diabetes more aggressively.
Sanofi recently launched an iPhone-compatible device which it hopes would give the company an edge in the tough blood glucose monitoring market.
Lantus currently dominates the market for long-acting, or basal, insulins used to treat diabetes, and the product had sales of around $5 billion last year. But it faces growing competition from rivals such as Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly.
Both these companies are lining up new products that could offer advantages over Lantus, and industry analysts believe previous strong growth in sales of Lantus is likely to slow in the coming years.
Most people with type 2 diabetes, the most common and fast-growing type of the disease, start out on oral medicine but often need to move on to insulin injections to regulate their blood-sugar levels.
(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)