Sanofi diabetes research chief takes CSO post at Grünenthal

Philip Just Larsen (right) at the Chinese National Compound Library. (The National Center for Drug Screening)

Sanofi is set to lose its global head of diabetes research and translational medicine to Grünenthal. Philip Just Larsen, M.D., Ph.D., will join the German pain specialist at the start of July, leaving Sanofi looking for a diabetes research chief and CSO for its Frankfurt hub.

Larsen has spent the last six years working for Sanofi, adding the regional CSO role to his diabetes responsibilities part way through that period. At the start of his career, Larsen spent a decade at Novo Nordisk and other diabetes specialists in his home country of Denmark before moving to Eli Lilly and later broadening his scope beyond the metabolic disease during a stay at AstraZeneca. 

Along the way, Larsen had a hand in the development of Novo’s Victoza, Sanofi and Zealand Pharma’s Adlyxin and Eli Lilly’s Trulicity. The drugs reflect Larsen’s focus on diabetes across much of his career. 

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Taking up the CSO role at Grünenthal will move Larsen out of his previously-chosen therapeutic niche. Grünenthal is best known for its pain therapeutics. And, while it is looking to move beyond that field, its expansion criteria suggest diabetes is low on its list of targets. Grünenthal is hunting for drugs targeting small populations of patients with severe, unmet medical needs.

By branching out, Larsen is gaining a central role at an organization with big R&D plans. Grünenthal is aiming to introduce four or five new products by 2022 to support its ambition to grow into a $2 billion business. Investments in R&D and acquisitions of speciality drug programs outside of pain are central to the plan.

In unveiling Larsen, Grünenthal CEO Gabriel Baertschi highlighted the incoming CEO’s “willingness to foster collaboration within and outside of our R&D organization” as a particular strength.