Sanofi begins 'full pipeline reprioritization' with layoffs in tow, R&D chief tells staff

Five months after setting out a controversial new vision for the company, Sanofi's executives have begun informing employees who will be losing their jobs as a result, Fierce Biotech has learned.

About 230 words into what appeared to be an inspiring email to staff setting out Sanofi's ambitions—to build “an immunoscience powerhouse, set to accelerate launches and transform the practice of medicine”—the French pharma's head of R&D Houman Ashrafian, Ph.D., turned to the business at hand: “a simplified R&D structure,” futureproofing and layoffs. 

In the email, which was sent on April 4 and has been obtained by Fierce, Ashrafian said the decision followed “an extensive review” conducted in coordination with leaders across the organization including in R&D, commercial “and beyond.” The result is a “full pipeline reprioritization project.”

“As this reprioritization cannot be achieved without an impact to our workforce, our first priority is to communicate to impacted teams across the therapeutic areas,” Ashrafian continued in the email. “These conversations have already begun, and over the next weeks, we will meet and engage with our employees and social partners to provide context on our choices and move forward with the implementation of our roadmap, in accordance with local rules as applicable.​​​​​”

“We recognize that hearing change is happening without more details can be unsettling,” Ashrafian added. “We emphasize our deep respect for the talent within our scientific community and ask for your patience while we communicate with those impacted.”

Ashrafian, who officially joined the Big Pharma in September, said Sanofi’s pipeline is in a “‘now or never’ moment” as it pushes ahead with its previously stated ambition to increase the number of phase 3 trials by 50% over the next two years. That would mean more than 35 ongoing late-stage studies by the beginning of 2026.

Ashrafian told staff that, as a result, there would be “fewer projects in research to fund the required increase in investment in our development portfolio.” 

“This unique effort in our company's history requires increasing investments as well as resource reallocation from across the organization,” Ashrafian said in his memo. He added that “resources have been put in place at the country level to support” affected staff, suggesting the restructuring has wide-ranging reach. 

A follow-up email—also obtained by Fierce—was sent to Sanofi's U.S. R&D employees by Raquel Mura, who leads R&D global operations for North America. 

“This has been difficult for all of our R&D U.S. colleagues, but especially for those impacted,” she wrote, adding that Ashrafian and CEO Paul Hudson will expand on the change in town hall meetings next week.

A Sanofi spokesperson declined to elaborate to Fierce on how many employees will be impacted in total, restating that prioritizing immunology “means that we are reallocating and refocusing resources to accelerate our investments in programs with high potential.” 

“While we seek to employ as many impacted employees as possible within Sanofi when changes are implemented, there will be people impacted by these changes,” the spokesperson added.

A concerted investment shift by Sanofi was first laid out by Hudson in late October, when he unveiled the next chapter of his “Play to Win” strategy, which included redirecting resources toward more successful therapeutic areas, like immunology. That reallocation was intended to save about 700 million euros out of 2 billion euros in total cost-saving work, according to Sanofi's earnings presentation at the time. 

Last month, Sanofi said it would close an R&D site in the U.K. that was acquired through a previous deal, cutting 90 jobs. 

Conversely, Sanofi expected to increase its R&D spending, with the company axing 2025 guidance in favor of reinvestment. Hudson subsequently specified that he expects Sanofi will spend roughly 700 million euros more on R&D in 2024 than it did in 2023.

While Fierce hasn't received confirmation of exactly where the layoffs will fall, it's possible that the company's comments at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January offer some clues. At the event, Hudson told reporters that while the French pharma “has never been stronger,” the company's stumbles in oncology had dissuaded the drugmaker from standing up a full franchise.

“What you will see from Sanofi is we will play where we really have a right to play, oncology is included,” Ashrafian explained at the same presentation session.

Ashrafian also reaffirmed the company's commitment to rare conditions, saying that “we haven't forgotten” about rare diseases.