Sanofi's dilemma: Keeping R&D talent from bolting Genzyme

Can Big Pharma absorb a vibrant biotech R&D culture without eliminating all the creative juices in the mix? That's the question that now faces Sanofi-Aventis CEO Chris Viehbacher as he orchestrates a $20 billion merger with Genzyme. And in an indication of Big Pharma's tarnished reputation for creativity, the drug company faces some committed skeptics.

Nature takes a turn at bat on the topic, noting that in the wake of Roche's takeover of Genentech, "many of Genentech's top executives left soon after the purchase was announced." "Since then, talented people from Genentech have peppered the whole West Coast with biotech start-ups," Neil Solomon of the Neil Michael Group tells Nature.

"No matter what big pharma does, it is different from biotech, and different people are drawn to these two different cultures," says Alison Taunton-Rigby, chief executive of RiboNovix and a former Genzyme SVP.

Taunton-Rigby goes on to note that the Genzyme takeover could pave the way to a fundamental reshaping of the huge biotech hub in Boston. If Genzyme becomes Sanofi's R&D engine for rare diseases and Biogen Idec is taken over later, then the area could lose touch with the sales and marketing side of the business, eliminating everything except R&D. But the worst case scenario would indicate that Boston also stands to gain a wave of new biotech start-ups, providing a silver lining to the dark cloud hovering around Genzyme.

- here's the story from Nature