Bayer's Brandicourt said to top Sanofi CEO list: Bloomberg

Olivier Brandicourt

Sanofi ($SNY) Chairman Serge Weinberg recently brushed away suggestions that the French drugmaker was having a hard time finding someone who wanted to be CEO of the company. They had several top candidates he said and one would be named by March. Now the talk is that Bayer's Olivier Brandicourt, who is also a Pfizer ($PFE) alum, is the top contender.

This comes from unnamed sources, Bloomberg reports, and they say that his taking over would require him disengaging from obligations to Bayer after taking over as head of its healthcare business less than two years ago. Neither Sanofi or Bayer had any comment to make on the possibility.

Weinberg has been under some pressure to find a replacement for Chris Viehbacher, who board members ousted in October, saying he just was not good at communicating with them. But since then, at least two top pharma execs turned Sanofi away in recent months. That includes Takeda's Christophe Weber, who is in line to become CEO there.

Weinberg has said that Sanofi was looking at candidates from outside the company. But it has been suggested the company also was looking for someone with a French sensibility who would be more in line with the board's thinking and style than Viehbacher, who was well liked on Wall Street for his straight talk, but less popular with the board which found his style brash.

Brandicourt is a doctor who was trained in Paris and was a malaria researcher there early in his career. He took over as CEO of Bayer's healthcare business in September 2013. Before that, he held a number of senior-level jobs at Pfizer, including president and general manager of emerging markets and established products.

Because of the publicity surrounding the CEO drama at Sanofi, whoever takes over will be carefully scrutinized. Viehbacher, just before leaving, had warned that sales in the U.S. of its diabetes products were likely to suffer this year because of pricing pressures. Sanofi, since then has made some adjustments on that front and insisted all is good.

The drugmaker's recent earnings bested forecasts with sales up 7% to 9.07 billion euros with revenues from its diabetes franchise up 11% to 2.02 billion euros, but then this week, it said it was cutting 100 R&D jobs in the U.S. as it backs away from efforts in oncology. "Sanofi communicated a natural evolution of its research and development organization that will prioritize its focus and investments in exciting areas of science and medicine," the company said in a statement.

A new CEO will be under pressure not to let momentum slack. Toward that end, he or she will have a new diabetes product to roll out, Afrezza, the inhaled insulin developed by MannKind ($MNKD). There are also big expectations for the PCSK9 cholesterol treatment that Sanofi is developing with U.S. based Regeneron ($REGN).

- read the Bloomberg story