Olivier Brandicourt named as new Sanofi chief executive

After more than three months of searching, Sanofi has confirmed that Bayer’s Olivier Brandicourt is to be its new chief executive.

Brandicourt is currently head of Bayer’s pharma division, and looks to be the perfect fit for Sanofi, which parted company with their last CEO Chris Viehbacher in late October. Viehbacher was forced out after disagreements with the company’s board over his leadership style came to a head.

Serge Weinberg, chairman of the Sanofi board had personally clashed with Viehbacher, and has been criticised for his handling of the episode, which has caused investor confidence to sink.

Viehbacher’s departure came directly after bad results for its diabetes franchise, it most important therapy area.

Brandicourt and Weinberg must now try to restore the company’s damaged reputation, and lay out a convincing strategy to investors.

The new chief executive certainly has the right profile and experience: Brandicourt studied medicine and biology in Paris and then worked as a doctor, focused on tropical medicine and malaria research. He joined the pharma industry in in 1987 at Parke-Davis / Warner-Lambert, which was acquired by Pfizer, where he rose to the executive leadership team in 2010.

In his 17 months as head of Bayer’s pharma division, Brandicourt oversaw the acquisition of Merck’s consumer care business for $14.2 billion and Norwegian cancer drug firm Algeta for $2.9 billion.

Brandicourt could follow a similar strategy of acquisitions to help bolster Sanofi’s position, although its late-stage pipeline is promising.

The company has no fewer than six drugs scheduled for launch this year, including its next –generation insulin Toujeo, and new cholesterol therapy Praluent, both of which are tipped for blockbuster status.

The launch of Toujeo is particularly important, as it must take over from the firm’s current big earner, Lantus, which goes off patent this year but accounts for 30 per cent of Sanofi’s profits.

The appointment will come as a relief to Serge Weinberg, who is said to have approached numerous other senior French pharmaceutical executives for the post, including Takeda’s CEO-in-waiting Christophe Weber, and AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot, only to be rebutted.

Weinberg had denied that the company was restricting its search to French nationals, but it is apparent this was one of the key criteria. German-Canadian Chris Viehbacher was seemingly out of step with French sentiment, and the last straw is said to have been his decision to cut jobs in France without consulting the board.

Commenting on the new appointment, Weinberg said: “Olivier Brandicourt’s strong experience combined with his international profile, deep knowledge of US and emerging healthcare markets, and his capability to unite teams will provide new dynamism to Sanofi’s strategy of diversification and innovation.”

Brandicourt has knowledge of the US and emerging markets, and insight into the latter will be particularly useful as these should yield much of the company’s growth over the next decade.

Sanofi’s new chief executive will formally take up his role on 2 April. Bayer has announced that his role will be filled by Werner Baumann, currently the firm’s chief strategy and portfolio officer.

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