* Partners to work on up to 12 drug targets for 5 years
* Sanofi to pay $50 mln, plus up to $184 mln for each target (Adds further detail on drugs and partnership)
PARIS, March 16 (Reuters) - French drugmaker Sanofi could pay privately held DiCE Molecules as much as $2.3 billion under a partnership deal announced on Wednesday that aims to find new oral medicines to replace injections for certain diseases.
The five-year research alliance involves Sanofi paying an initial $50 million to access DiCE's technology and taking an equity stake in the U.S. firm.
The companies will then work on as many as 12 drug targets, with Sanofi contributing up to $184 million per target in research, clinical and regulatory milestone payments. France's biggest drugmaker will also pay DiCE royalties on sales of any medicines that are successfully developed, the companies said.
California-based DiCE specialises in producing novel medicines that can be given as pills but which tackle complex diseases that normally require treatment with injectable protein-based drugs.
In particular, DiCE believes its technology should enable monoclonal antibodies, which are given by injection or infusion, to be replaced by orally-administered medicines. Antibody drugs are used to treat various types of cancer, as well as serious immune system disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The approach may also open up ways to tackle conditions for which there are currently no good treatment options.
"We hope this partnership will help deliver essential therapies against currently intractable disease targets," said Kathy Bowdish, head of Sanofi's Sunrise Initiative, which aims to invest in early-stage drug opportunities via partnerships.
(Reporting by James Regan and Ben Hirschler; editing by David Clarke)