Sanofi veteran Peter Guenter exits top diabetes role to take helm at Almirall

The CEO job at Spanish drugmaker Almirall lured Sanofi EVP Peter Guenter away from his role leading the company's diabetes and cardiovascular business.

Sanofi’s loss is Almirall’s gain. The French drugmaker’s global diabetes and cardiovascular chief, Peter Guenter, has decamped for the top job at Almirall, a Spanish pharma that specializes in dermatology.

Almirall’s CEO stepped down Monday as the company’s board welcomed Guenter to the helm. At Sanofi, Guenter has been an executive vice president since June 2016, when CEO Olivier Brandicourt rejigged management, and has worked at the company for 22 years.

He’ll be leaving a tough gig at Sanofi, where the lead diabetes blockbuster Lantus faces biosimilar competition and a much-anticipated cholesterol drug, Praluent, has faltered in its early days on the market, and now faces a potentially crippling patent challenge by Amgen.

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Together with new rival drugs and payer pressure, these challenges have made Sanofi’s diabetes franchise a turnaround situation rather than a stalwart cash cow. Sanofi's ex-diabetes chief, Pascale Witz, left the company in last year's shakeup.

The French drugmaker is “well underway” in its search for Guenter’s replacement, CEO Olivier Brandicourt wrote in an internal announcement obtained by FiercePharma Monday. In the meantime, Brandicourt himself will take the reins of the diabetes and CV business, the notice stated.

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“Peter is leaving Sanofi for an opportunity that will build on his great experience, knowledge and proven leadership skills, and I wish him much success,” Brandicourt wrote ahead of the Almirall announcement.

Moving into a CEO slot gives Guenter the chance to call all his own shots, of course, something even top management in Big Pharma have less freedom to do. Guenter said Monday he’ll be at the helm of a company with its growth foundation in place.

Almirall “has a clearly defined and sound strategy and has the determination and means to execute this strategy, putting the patients and customers at the center of everything we do,” Guenter said in a statement. “Together with my team, I am convinced we will be able to fully unlock the value of Almirall.”

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Almirall focuses on different therapeutic areas than Sanofi does. After a 2014 revamp, when it unloaded its respiratory medications to AstraZeneca in a deal worth up to $2.2 billion, $875 million up front, the drugmaker zeroed in on dermatology, aiming to become a leader in that field.

Thanks to a series of deals, the specialty pharma markets a variety of treatments for dermatological conditions such as psoriasis, dermatitis and severe acne, as well as aesthetic skin treatments. It most recently acquired the rights to Veltin and Altavax from GlaxoSmithKline’s Stiefel and markets them through its U.S. affiliate Aqua Pharmaceuticals.

In 2015, it shelled out €365 million-plus for Poli Group and its pipeline of psoriasis, baldness and other dermatology therapies. Its previous deal for Aqua yielded acne medications, and that skin condition is now the centerpiece of a new virtual reality marketing campaign unveiled in March at the American Academy of Dermatology meeting.