Sanofi carves up its org chart to deliver on a $38B pipeline promise

Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt

Sanofi ($SNY), adjusting to life under new leadership, is planning to split up its business into 5 standalone segments, a move CEO Olivier Brandicourt said will help the company follow through on its promise to launch 18 new drugs over the next 5 years.

The plan, which will take effect on Jan. 1, calls for moving established products, vaccines and animal health into three separate units. On the R&D side, Sanofi is putting its rare diseases, multiple sclerosis, oncology and immunology pipeline under the Genzyme umbrella, expanding CEO David Meeker's responsibilities in the process. And the drugmaker is combining its cardiovascular and diabetes segments into a single unit governed by Pascale Witz.

The overarching goal is to speed up the development of new medicines, Brandicourt said, as the company moves into a crucial period. Upon taking the reins in April, the ex-Bayer exec pledged to deliver up to 6 new drug launches in 2015 and about one every 6 months from then on, into 2018. That cadre of products could bring in as much as $38 billion through 2020, Sanofi said, and investors will be expecting the French company's leadership to keep its word.

But Sanofi's recent record of innovation paints a different picture. The three in-development medicines name-checked in the company's latest announcement--the cholesterol treatment alirocumab and immunology therapies sarilumab and dupilumab--were all discovered by partner Regeneron ($REGN). And the drugmaker has largely backed away from its in-house efforts in oncology, shedding about 100 Genzyme researchers earlier this year in an effort to streamline its R&D budget. Tal Zaks, who previously led Sanofi's oncology division, jumped ship for Moderna Therapeutics in March.

Former CEO Chris Viehbacher, deposed last fall, believes at least some of such R&D stagnancy is a product of Big Pharma's culture of navel-gazing and risk-aversion. "My conclusion is that you can't have truly disruptive thinking inside big organizations," he told FierceBiotech last month. "Everything about the way a big organization is designed is about eliminating disruption."

Whether Sanofi's new model of empowering execs to oversee separate fiefdoms will change its fortunes remains to be seen. In a statement, Brandicourt said the move "simplifies and focuses Sanofi to optimize growth. This is a necessary step for ensuring that Sanofi's new medicines and vaccines continue to build on our heritage of providing innovative healthcare therapies."

- read the statement