Headed for the exit: Sanofi CEO Brandicourt to retire, Novartis' Hudson steps in

The Olivier Brandicourt era at Sanofi is nearing an end, and the Paul Hudson era will begin.

On Sept. 1, Brandicourt will retire, and Hudson—who was formerly president of Novartis’ pharma business—will take the reins at the French drugmaker.

The change in leadership comes after Sanofi in March confirmed it was working on succession planning for Brandicourt, who took the helm at Sanofi in April 2015. At the time, the CEO was two years away from his 65th birthday, and the company sets that age limit for its leaders. 

It also comes after several years of turmoil at the French drugmaker. As CEO, Brandicourt has grappled with a diabetes business torpedoed by pricing pressure and competition and a thin pipeline of new drug candidates. He quickly unveiled a restructuring plan to cut costs and jobs and focus on five business units. 

He also got to work scouting deals. After missing out on Medivation and Actelion, Sanofi last year inked buyouts of Ablynx and Bioverativ, boosting its rare disease presence. The company also swapped assets with Boehringer Ingelheim in 2016, sending away its animal health group in exchange for Boehringer’s consumer healthcare business. 

Despite those efforts, Sanofi was still struggling, as last year's numbers show. The company posted a sales decline in 2018 and cut its CEO’s pay by 25% to €7.28 million ($8.2 million), making his among the smallest compensation packages in Big Pharma. Sanofi has promising launches underway—including Dupixent—and believes it’ll grow sales in the future.

In a statement, the company’s board thanked the outgoing CEO for “the energy with which he has steered the group through a complex period and for his decisive contribution to the company's return to growth.” 

Brandicourt’s tenure was marred by one disastrous launch: that of dengue vaccine Dengvaxia. The company won its first global approvals in late 2015, but in 2018, a scandal erupted in the Philippines. The company in late 2017 disclosed that the shot can cause more serious infections if given to people who haven’t had a prior infection. The disclosure triggered a controversy that led to countless negative headlines and an ongoing investigation there. In March, prosecutors said they were preparing criminal charges.

In Hudson, Sanofi has selected a senior executive at one of the world’s top drugmakers to lead its next chapter. Hudson has led a 28-year career at Schering-Plough, AstraZeneca and Novartis. He will relocate to Paris for the job. 

Sanofi’s chairman, Serge Weinberg, said in a statement that Hudson’s “skills and experience give him all the assets he needs to accelerate growth and lead the group's adaptation to new strategic challenges, particularly in the areas of [R&D] and digital."

Further, the new helmsman has “human values” that’ll “enable him to mobilize all the energies and increase the agility that a group such as Sanofi needs to face the new challenges of our industry and the changes in healthcare systems around the world."

Novartis has selected Marie-France Tschudin, now president of its recently acquired Advanced Accelerator Applications business, to fill Hudson’s role. She joined the company in January 2017.