BiPar Sciences, maker of tumor-targeting cancer treatments, will be acquired by public global pharmaceutical company Sanofi-aventis. The two companies have signed a binding agreement that could deliver more than $500 million to BiPar, divided into varying milestone payments.

Based in Brisbane, Calif., BiPar creates therapies, primarily for breast and ovarian cancer patients, that use inhibitors to kill cancer cells by preventing them from repairing their own DNA. Its lead compound in this area, BSI-201, is currently in the second stage of clinical trials. The deal between the two companies appears to have been motivated by Sanofi’s desire to add this drug and the company’s other projects to its portfolio — not by a lack of funds in BiPar’s coffers.

In fact, Paris-based Sanofi has been on a bit of a shopping spree lately to buffer itself against the economic downturn. It acquired Brazilian generic drug maker Medley for $660 million just last week. Shortly before that, it added Mexican generic producer Laboratorios Kendrick and similar Czech firm Zentiva. Sanofi is known as the dominant force in the anticlotting pharmaceutical market — offering well-known drugs Lovenox and Plavix — and is striving to maintain its stature as more generics enter the market.

As for BiPar, it is far from alone in its development of inhibitor-based cancer treatments. Big names like Abbott Labs, Pfizer and AztraZeneca are also neck and neck with compounds of their own in different phases of clinical trials. The boost from Sanofi could propel BiPar to the head of the pack, but probably not for long.

BiPar raised funds as recently as January, pulling in $20 million in equity and venture debt. Its investors include Domain Associates, Canaan Partners, Lighthouse Capital Partners, Vulcan Capital, PolyTechnos Venture Partners, Asset Management Company and Quantum Technology Partners.

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