Sanofi loses vaccines chief Loew to Ipsen amid global attention on its COVID-19 project

David Loew is leaving the top Sanofi Pasteur job even as the company is working to put on a show with its GSK-partnered COVID-19 vaccine. (Sanofi)

Sanofi’s new CEO Paul Hudson has been making his mark in the company’s C-suite, and his latest round of executive shuffling will impact the company's top vaccines job—even as it’s prepping its GlaxoSmithKline-partnered COVID-19 candidate.

David Loew, who has been leading vaccines unit Sanofi Pasteur since mid-2016, is jumping ship to fellow French drugmaker Ipsen as CEO, taking over from former chief executive David Meek, who is now CEO of Ferring Pharmaceuticals’ gene therapy spinout FerGene. Thomas Triomphe, who joined Sanofi Pasteur in 2004 and currently serves as the unit’s head of franchises and product strategy, will take his place.

There are no details on Loew's departure, but Sanofi consumer health head Alan Main is also vacating his role, and the company put in altogether four new leaders.

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Loew spent 21 years at Roche before joining Sanofi in July 2013, and during his tenure as Sanofi Pasteur chief, he helped the company weather the ill-fated Dengvaxia safety controversy. Under Loew, Sanofi also acquired U.S. biotech Protein Sciences in 2017 for $650 million up front and gained control of Flublok Quadrivalent, the only FDA-approved recombinant protein-based flu shot. 

Now, the French pharma is applying that recombinant know-how in the design of a COVID-19 vaccine with GSK’s adjuvant. But Hudson recently got into a controversy around that program after commenting that the U.S. “has the right to the largest pre-order” because the country had invested in its research upfront. Sanofi chairman Serge Weinberg soon backtracked that statement amid pushback in France, stressing that countries will be “served at the same time.”

Besides the recombinant shot, for which Sanofi expects to start human tests as early as September, the French pharma also has another partnership with Translate Bio focusing on an mRNA vaccine.

Despite Hudson's inflammatory comments, Sanofi's rolling up its sleeves for the development, production and potential rollout of those vaccines. During a recent conference call in late April, Hudson touted the company's existing capacity to make 100 million to 600 million doses of the recombinant shot, with a goal to expand to 1 billion doses in 12 months.

RELATED: Sanofi gets COVID-19 sales boost as CEO touts vaccine manufacturing prowess

With Loew gone, the projects will fall on the shoulders of his successor Triomphe in an internal promotion. As for Main’s consumer health job, it will be filled by Julie Van Ongevalle, a new face from Estée Lauder’s Origins. In addition, Arnaud Robert has been named chief digital officer after serving with the same title at Viking Cruises. And Natalie Bickford, who once held a human resources leadership position at AstraZeneca, has been hired as chief people officer.

“Sanofi needs people who can bring us new insights from the outside of the industry as well as people with world-class pharma expertise,” Hudson said in a statement on Friday. “We need leaders who come to Sanofi with a fresh perspective as well as leaders who have grown up within the company.”

These four new appointments round out the exec shakeup Hudson unveiled in February. At that time, chief medical officer and chief digital officer Ameet Nathwani was among four execs who got the ax.

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