Sanofi Taps Former NIH Head to Lead R&D

| About: Sanofi (SNY)

By Michael Fitzhugh

Retooling Aligns Leadership With New Development Model

Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE:SNY) has named former National Institutes of Health head Elias Zerhouni to replace Marc Cluzel as head of its global research and development efforts in an effort to further advance an aggressive overhaul of its product development engine. Cluzel resigned his post, though he’ll stay on as a scientific advisor to Zerhouni.

Research programs under Cluzel have garnered ever-fewer dollars at Sanofi as CEO Chris Viehbacher spends a growing amount of energy looking outside the company for small- to mid-size acquisition opportunities and new licensing deals to bolster Sanofi’s pipeline. Zerhouni, who has served as a scientific advisor to Sanofi, has been instrumental in redesigning Sanofi’s R&D model to foster increased innovation, according to Viehbacher.

Viehbacher says:

Through his vast experience and visionary approach, he has provided excellent advice and insight and has been central in implementing what is now one of the most promising R&D models in healthcare.

A new and successful development model is critical at Sanofi, which faces the potential loss of about a third of its sales through to 2013 due to patent expirations on some of its best-selling drugs. That model, built in part on what the company calls “openness to the external scientific world,” has led to acquisitions of the Brisbane, California cancer drug developer, BiPar Sciences in April 2009, and its thus-far unsuccessful pursuit of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech giant Genzyme (GENZ).

Zerhouni joined Sanofi in February 2009 as a scientific advisor, after serving six year as director of the National Institutes of Health, from 2002 to 2008. He’ll report directly to Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher and join the company’s executive committee and the Management Committee. Zerhouni, a native of Algeria, is the first non-French head of R&D at the Paris-based company. Zerhouni, though, received the prestigious Legion of Honor medal from the French National Order, maintains membership in the French Academy of Medicine, and serves as Chair of Innovation at the College de France.

Disclosure: No position