Sanofi rebuilds early-stage R&D strategy in thriving Boston/Cambridge hub

Elias Zerhouni, president of global R&D

Sanofi ($SNY) has had a string of regulatory successes to boast about recently. There have been approvals for Kynamro, Zaltrap, Aubagio and Lyxumia in Europe. A decision on Lemtrada is on its way. And while all sorts of questions remain over just how much money these new drugs will earn, the pharma giant's regulatory wins have eased some of the pressure to prove that it can develop new drugs and win approvals. 

But Sanofi hasn't been idle on the early R&D front either. As R&D chief Elias Zerhouni explained in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the company has been retooling early stage research efforts, continuing an ongoing shift in focus to the Boston/Cambridge hub, where a mixture of up-and-coming biotechs and world-class research centers has created "one of the richest environments for research and early development."

"We're investing a lot more upstream in understanding human-disease biology," Dr. Zerhouni told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. "We're extremely good at toolmaking, but not very good at understanding the biology" of disease.

In focusing on Boston/Cambridge, Sanofi has been beefing up its scientific ranks in Massachusetts while scaling back in France--inciting a considerable amount of resistance along the way. That's why its new CSO, a veteran of the NIH like Zarhouni, has been based in the growing U.S. hub. 

Zerhouni's early-stage R&D strategy borrows a page from the playbook at companies like Genentech, where understanding the biology of disease has become a mantra over the years, playing out with a string of breakthrough discoveries and R&D projects and pointing them down the road to a certain harvest of future successes. Now, though, Sanofi will have to drive home its early-stage R&D restructuring in a timely manner. No company has an unlimited amount of time these days to prove that their research strategies actually work. 

- here's the story from The Wall Street Journal

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