Europe makes Sanofi chief thankful for emerging markets

Although Sanofi ($SNY) CEO Christopher Viehbacher (photo) sees a glimmer of light at the end of the long Eurozone tunnel, he's still glad the French drugmaker doesn't depend on Europe as much as it used to. "I'm very glad I invested heavily in emerging markets three years ago, because there's clearly a difference now in the growth in our industry," Viehbacher told CNBC at Davos, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

The U.S. and Europe used to be the center of the pharma universe, but like Sanofi, other Big Pharmas have been casting a wider net, investing in India, China, Latin America and other up-and-coming spots. However, the industry still gets a lot of its revenues from mature economies, which is why the austerity programs in Europe are taking a toll. "The fact that the cost of debt for some European countries has come down is clearly a positive sign," Viehbacher told Blooomberg, but it's a "little early" to say the worst of the crisis is in the past.

And then there's the U.S. Viehbacher told CNBC he "remains optimistic about the U.S., especially from 2014 onward," which could be an allusion to Sanofi's rising sales post-patent cliff or a credit to healthcare reform. When insurance mandates take effect in 2014--if they survive Supreme Court review--a mass of patients is expected to join the ranks of the insured, and many of those patients will no doubt use prescription drugs.

The patent cliff will help the U.S. healthcare system, even as it digs into branded drugmakers' revenues, because payers can turn to cheap generics, Viehbacher said. What's more, the U.S. "values innovation," he says, and so new products are welcomed, as long as they're improvements on the old. "Our industry has adapted," he said. "So any new product has to be better."

- read the Bloomberg piece
- see the CNBC interview

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