Sanofi shakes up management as top diabetes exec departs

Pascale WItz

Amid slumping diabetes sales and impending biosimilar competition for its star drug Lantus, Sanofi is shaking up its top management team for the second time since CEO Olivier Brandicourt took the helm last year.

The changes line up with the “strategic roadmap” Brandicourt unveiled last November, along with promises to revitalize Sanofi’s key diabetes business. They include a new position--as yet unfilled--running the consumer healthcare business, soon to be much larger, after the unit swap with Boehringer Ingelheim.

Then there’s the departure of Pascale Witz, who’s been running Sanofi’s ($SNY) diabetes and cardiovascular business since mid-2015. That unit’s sales slipped by 5.8% in the first quarter, dragged down by a big decline in Lantus sales.

That business has also been in an uncomfortable spotlight for a couple of years now, since Sanofi announced a disappointingly flat sales forecast for 2015. Then, last October, the French drugmaker said diabetes sales had dropped, and that it expected the decline to continue. Pricing pressure in the U.S., new competition, and Lantus biosimilars in Europe were already taking their toll.

The company had hoped to rev up some newly launched drugs--including its Lantus follow-up Toujeo--to help fill the gap when Lantus started facing biosimilar competition. But those rollouts didn’t all go as planned: The inhaled insulin Afrezza never got off the ground, and now Sanofi has dropped it altogether; Toujeo has struggled to gain basal insulin share, partly because of Lantus’ dominant position, partly on competition from other meds. The drug brought in €103 million in Q1, up only slightly from Q4’s €98 million.

In an emailed statement, Sanofi said that it’s premature to speculate on any upcoming changes in its diabetes business, after Peter Guenter, currently EVP of general medicines and emerging markets, takes the reins.

Meanwhile, Sanofi’s new cholesterol drug Praluent, one of the closely watched PCSK9 drugs, isn’t churning out sales, either. The Sanofi and Regeneron ($REGN) med, along with Amgen’s ($AMGN) competitor Repatha, are suffering as payers restrict their use and doctors remain skeptical about their ability to reduce cardiovascular risks in addition to dramatically lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Now, Sanofi is in the thick of a hostile bid for U.S.-based cancer specialist Medivation ($MDVN). The deal would bring an immediate sales boost--Medivation’s prostate cancer med Xtandi is already a blockbuster--and pipeline candidates as well. And it would help amp up Sanofi’s oncology business, one of Brandicourt’s strategic aims. But several other Big Biopharmas are reportedly in the hunt as well, and Medivation has so far refused to engage with Sanofi about its $52.50-per-share bid.

- see Sanofi’s release

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