Le Figaro: Sanofi will tap Bayer's Brandicourt as CEO this week

Olivier Brandicourt

PARIS--Olivier Brandicourt is the man. Sanofi ($SNY) will officially hand the reins to Brandicourt this week, Le Figaro reports, ending months of speculation about the French drugmaker's new CEO. Now heading up Bayer HealthCare, Brandicourt has reportedly been on Sanofi's short list since ex-CEO Chris Viehbacher made his untimely exit--or perhaps before.

Brandicourt will have plenty to do at Sanofi, which is revving up for a series of launches in diabetes, as well as a much-anticipated cholesterol fighter, alirocumab. The new CEO will also inherit a rejigging on the R&D side; the company ratcheted back in oncology last week, after a series of failures in the field. All this at a time when its top-selling product, Lantus, faces biosimilar competition in Europe and a high-stakes patent fight in the U.S.

Bayer HealthCare has pulled off a series of successful roll-outs, including the vision-loss injection Eylea, developed with Regeneron ($REGN), and the anticoagulant Xarelto, developed with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ). The German drugmaker has beat sales forecasts for its newer meds quarter after quarter, and CEO Marijn Dekkers now expects its 5 newest meds to fuel 8% growth in pharma through 2016. But Brandicourt can only take partial credit for those successes; he moved into the CEO post at Bayer HealthCare in September 2013, less than 18 months ago.

Still, Brandicourt's resume ticks a series of requirements on Sanofi's list. His commercial expertise is deep; Brandicourt headed up the marketing team for Lipitor at Parke-Davis, since bought by Pfizer ($PFE). Dealmaking? When Bayer snagged Merck & Co.'s ($MRK) consumer health unit for $14.2 billion last year, he led the negotiations. Plus, Regeneron is one of Bayer HealthCare's key pharma partners. It's one of Sanofi's, too.

Brandicourt's R&D background takes up less space on that C.V. A physician specializing in infectious and tropical disease, he joined Parke-Davis in 1988 as a medical director responsible for developing a malaria-fighting drug, but then jumped the fence into marketing.

Rolling out new diabetes meds, at a time when U.S. payer pressure is intensifying, will be a challenge. Sanofi surprised the market last fall by predicting little to no growth in the field for 2015, thanks to waning pricing power with Lantus and the inevitable ramp-up with new entrants Afrezza, launched in the U.S. last week, and Toujeo, still awaiting approval from the FDA.

But it's R&D where Sanofi faces the biggest questions--and perhaps the most pressure from the board. The company's recent successes in R&D primarily depended upon external partnerships--including a highly successful one with Regeneron--rather than internal innovation. Viehbacher had been struggling to shift Sanofi's center of gravity toward Boston, where the recently acquired Genzyme is based, and away from France, where Sanofi's legacy R&D operations hold sway. His plans to slash jobs and costs out of Sanofi's French labs met with fierce political resistance in the country, and, some say, cost him dearly with Sanofi's board.

Sanofi Chairman Serge Weinberg

Plans to hive off established products, including associated operations in France, certainly put Viehbacher at odds with Chairman Serge Weinberg and other directors, who say the former CEO kept them in the dark about the potential sale.

Viehbacher was Sanofi's first CEO without a French heritage. When the company pushed him out, citing irreconcilable differences, analysts and others speculated that Sanofi would seek a French replacement, and Brandicourt fits that bill. But Weinberg also promised that the new chief would also have plenty of pharma expertise and leadership experience.

Bayer HealthCare is far smaller than Sanofi, with 19 billion euros in 2013 revenue, compared with Sanofi's €33.8 billion last year. They're similarly built, however, combining prescription drugs with animal health and consumer health products, plus a hefty portion of sales derived from emerging markets.

Bayer HealthCare is also one division in a major conglomerate, rather than a standalone public company like Sanofi. The German company is said to be planning a big restructuring as it prepares to spin off its plastics business to focus on life sciences. Bayer wants to merge its HealthCare and CropScience units, each of which now operate under its own management team. Perhaps that's why Brandicourt felt ready to jump ship so soon after taking control at HealthCare. Some would have to give up head honcho rights at Bayer when two groups became one. If Sanofi had its own top-dog role to offer, then it might as well be Brandicourt.

- read the Le Figaro story (French)

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