Sanofi ejects chief executive Viehbacher

Chris Viehbacher has departed from his role as chief executive of Sanofi after the company’s board voted to remove him.

Having taken over at the Paris-based company six years ago, German-Canadian Viehbacher represented a break from tradition of French, Euro-centric leaders at Sanofi, and helped lift it out of the doldrums.

Viehbacher successfully steered the firm through a period where big-earning blockbusters such as Plavix went off patent, nurtured new pipeline drugs and strengthened its diversified business model, which included the purchase of rare disease specialists Genzyme in 2011 for more than $20 billion.

But problems have risen to the surface in recent weeks, and personality clashes in the boardroom is understood to play a significant role in his departure. His decision to relocate to Boston in the US – where his son is at university – is said to have gone down badly.

Viehbacher wrote a letter to the Sanofi board last month in which he made the case for letting him stay on, which was then leaked to French business newspaper Les Echos.


Chris Viehbacher

“Changing the CEO would be against a backdrop of a company and a leader perceived to be succeeding strongly,” he wrote. “Such a change would be difficult to understand.”

The company has a number of promising new treatments nearing the market, including a breakthrough vaccine for Dengue fever, and alirocumab, a competitor in the promising PCSK9 inhibitor class of cholesterol treatments.

However, the company has growth problems in its existing portfolio. Yesterday saw Sanofi’s shares plunge 10 per cent following the firm’s warning earlier this week that its diabetes franchise – including blockbuster insulin product Lantus – would see sales level off next year because of price pressures.

Sanofi’s board convened in a dawn meeting this morning to make its decision, and said Viehbacher resigned after the board decided unanimously to remove him.

Chairman Serge Weinberg will act as interim chief executive while the company searches for a replacement for Mr Viehbacher.

Chairman Serge Weinberg

The company said that would not affect this year’s outlook, which forecast earnings per share growth of between 6 per cent and 8 per cent. However analysts say the revenue warning is likely to affect the firm’s 2015 performance.

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