Look for a new Sanofi CEO by March, says chairman, as earnings top forecast

Striking out in our CEO search? Not us, says Sanofi ($SNY). Chairman Serge Weinberg says the board is talking to a "limited number of candidates" and expects to make a choice very soon. A choice, by the way, from outside Sanofi, Weinberg says.

At least two top pharma execs turned Sanofi away in recent months, including Takeda's CEO-in-waiting Christophe Weber, who said as much in a recent interview. But Sanofi's nominating committee is close to its goal anyway, Weinberg says.

Serge Weinberg

"Now we are in the final stage and we are going to be in a position to announce the new CEO in the course of the first quarter," Weinberg said in announcing Sanofi's 2014 results Thursday (as quoted by Bloomberg).

Whoever takes the Sanofi job will step under a bright spotlight. The sudden--and somewhat sensational--departure of former CEO Chris Viehbacher has spawned plenty of talk about his tenure, and about the state of the company itself, particularly its diabetes franchise. Just before his ouster, Viehbacher warned that diabetes sales would be flat for 2015, partly because of pricing pressure in the U.S. and competition for its top seller, Lantus.

The good news is that Sanofi put out a 2015 forecast that's "actually decent," Barclays analyst Michael Leuchten told Bloomberg. Plus, fourth-quarter profits beat expectations, and sales grew by 7% to 9.07 billion euros, partly on the strength of the U.S. dollar. Diabetes sales for the period grew by 11% to 2.02 billion euros.

For the full year, Sanofi brought in 33.77 billion euros in sales, or $38.6 billion. 

Among the tasks ahead are several new launches, some that come with blockbuster hopes. The PCSK9 cholesterol fighter Sanofi is developing with U.S. based Regeneron ($REGN), for one. Thanks to a priority review voucher, alirocumab is in the lead for first-to-market advantage, in a field full of big sales expectations. Meanwhile, Toujeo, a long-lasting follow-up to Lantus, is up for approval later this year. And the company rolled out its latest diabetes contender Tuesday, Afrezza, the inhaled insulin developed by MannKind ($MNKD).

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