Top Sanofi U.S. exec departs amid struggles in diabetes franchise

Anne Whitaker

When Anne Whitaker joined Sanofi ($SNY) three years ago as president of its North American pharma unit, she had a tall order: to help the company diversify its portfolio so it was selling not just drugs, but a whole suite of products to improve the overall health of its core customer base. Under Whitaker's leadership, Sanofi added a bevy of diabetes devices and apps, including iBGStar, a glucose monitor that plugs into an iPhone.

Now Whitaker is jumping ship. According to an internal memo obtained by The Wall Street Journal blog Pharmalot, Whitaker is leaving for "another opportunity." Peter Guenter, an executive vice president for global commercial operations at Sanofi, broke the news to employees without providing further details. Whitaker, he wrote, "played a central role in the transformation of our North American pharmaceutical business during a time of significant market evolution," according to the WSJ.

Whitaker, who joined Sanofi from GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), is leaving at a time when the French giant's flagship diabetes franchise could use some fresh ideas. Sanofi's $8-billion-a-year insulin product, Lantus, is facing competition from looming biosimilars, as the drug races towards its February 2015 patent expiration. Sanofi has successfully filed lawsuits to keep Eli Lilly's ($LLY) biosimilar off the U.S. market until 2016, but that's far from the only threat. Lilly plans to launch the drug in Europe soon. And Merck ($MRK), in collaboration with Samsung and Biogen Idec ($BIIB), has its own Lantus biosimilar in the works.

Sanofi hopes to find salvation in its Lantus follow-up, the long-acting insulin product Toujeo (formerly U300). Last month, Sanofi announced that in three Phase III trials, Toujeo outperformed Lantus at controlling dangerous blood sugar drops in patients with Type 2 diabetes. The company has filed for FDA and EMA approval for the new insulin drug.

Meanwhile, Sanofi is continuing Whitaker's push to diversify beyond insulin. In mid-June, the company partnered with Medtronic ($MDT) to develop combination therapies for simplifying insulin treatment and improving adherence in patients with Type 2 diabetes.

In Sanofi's second quarter earnings release Thursday, CEO Chris Viehbacher revealed another plan for moving the company beyond Lantus--a shrewd strategy for the company's highly anticipated PCSK9 cholesterol drug, alirocumab. Sanofi and its partner, Regeneron ($REGN), paid $67.5 million to accelerate the FDA's review of the drug, giving the companies a chance to beat a rival product being developed by Amgen ($AMGN).

- here's the WSJ story

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