Biogen taps Sanofi vet Viehbacher as CEO amid sales slowdown and Alzheimer's launch prep

After months of radio silence, Biogen has revealed the succession plan for outgoing CEO Michel Vounatsos.

Biogen’s board has tapped former Sanofi chief Christopher Viehbacher to assume the throne Nov. 14. Viehbacher will also take over the role of director from Vounatsos, who plans to stick around at the struggling biotech for a “limited period of time” to smooth the CEO switch, Biogen said in a securities filing.

Viehbacher is a long-time biopharma veteran, most notably serving as Sanofi's CEO from 2008 to 2014. In a high-profile move eight years ago, Sanofi's board unanimously voted to remove Viehbacher from his post. Before Sanofi, Viehbacher had been a high-ranking executive at GSK.

More recently, the biopharma vet co-founded venture capital outfit Gurnet Point in 2015 and worked there for seven years, including as managing partner.

Biogen unveiled its plans for a regime change back in May, the same month it plotted a $1 billion cost-cutting initiative meant to blunt the impact of Aduhelm's ill-fated launch in Alzheimer’s disease. Biogen has communicated little about its progress on the CEO hunt since then.

In October, Stat reported that Mathai Mammen, M.D., Ph.D., who previously led R&D at Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit, had surfaced as a top CEO contender. Earlier this month, the publication said Mammen fell out of the running after a disagreement with Chairman Stelios Papadopoulos, Ph.D., over board control.

As a VC veteran, Viehbacher will likely bring on some of the business development acumen Biogen’s investors have been clamoring for. Back in May—the same month Biogen announced Vounatos’ impending exit—an RBC Capital Markets survey found nearly 40% of the biotech’s stakeholders said they wanted a new chief executive with a track record of successful dealmaking, either through in-licensing deals or acquisitions.

Viehbacher’s contract will see the incoming helmsman receive a yearly base salary of $1.6 million. He’ll also be up to take part in Biogen’s management incentive plan and receive a bonus with an annual target of 150% of salary, Biogen said in its securities filing. Viehbacher is in line to receive $11.2 million in stock as a one-time bonus paid out over three years and up to $16.8 million in performance-based stock compensation that will pay out based on shareholder returns.

Additionally, he's slated to buy $2 million in stock and Biogen is giving him $2 million more in stock available to vest three years later.

Despite recent cost cuts and Aduhelm turbulence, Biogen could be turning a page. Thanks to its $1 billion savings campaign and “better-than-expected” topline performance, the company recently raised its full-year earnings per share guidance to a range of $16.50 to $17.15, up from a prior range of $15.25 to $16.75.

Still, overall sales for the third quarter clocked in at $2.5 billion, down 8% over the same stretch in 2021.

Perhaps more importantly, Biogen is getting a second shot at the Alzheimer’s market with its Eisai-partnered antibody lecanemab. With the drug up for an FDA approval decision in January, Biogen is already steeling its manufacturing lines. At the end of the quarter, Biogen execs said the company had a little more than $100 million worth of the Alzheimer’s candidate in inventory.