Sanofi's got a new CEO. Now what?

Olivier Brandicourt

Sanofi has made official what's no longer news, trotting out Olivier Brandicourt as its next chief executive. Stepping in on April 2, the experienced Frenchman inherits a wealth of commercial challenges, a quixotic relationship with local regulators and a make-or-break pipeline the company believes can bring in $38 billion over 5 years.

Brandicourt's bona fides are already well established. He has spent two years as head of healthcare at Bayer, before that serving a long stint in the top ranks at Pfizer ($PFE), and he's a physician by training. And, of course, he's French, ticking off an oft-ridiculed box on Sanofi's checklist for a new leader after it unceremoniously axed Canadian Chris Viehbacher last year.

Now, taking the reins, Brandicourt joins a drugmaker working to keep a multitude of plates spinning, facing declining sales in its banner diabetes business, a handful of weighty near-term launches and a promising pipeline of in-development treatments with major expectations attached.

On the latter score, Sanofi has promised to notch 18 new drug approvals over the next 5 years--up to 6 in 2015 and about one every 6 months from then on--and the drugmaker has gone out on a limb in saying its new products can bring in $38 billion over that same period. Such lofty goals require execution in the coming months, with the long-acting insulin Toujeo up for approval in the next few months and Praluent, a Regeneron ($REGN)-partnered antibody poised to lead a blockbuster market of new cardiovascular treatments, expected to win an FDA nod in August.

And while Viehbacher remains non grata at Sanofi headquarters, the company has him and his penchant for checkbook research to thank for its late-stage pipeline. Under his watch, the company deepened its financial ties to Regeneron and Alnylam ($ALNY) without meddling in their innovation, pouring money into their R&D programs in exchange for commercial rights. And Sanofi kept its door open to small biotech, betting $125 million on Warp Drive Bio's microbial platform and $100 million on Voyager Therapeutics' approach to gene therapy, laying the groundwork for some moonshot bets on new technology.

Whether Brandicourt plans to take the same approach to R&D will be something to watch. Beyond its long-delayed efforts to develop a dengue vaccine, Sanofi's internal development efforts have been largely anemic, and the company's moves thus far in 2015 paint a contrasting picture. Kicking off the year, Sanofi cut about 100 researchers at its Genzyme unit and backed away from its as-yet-unproductive work in oncology, but only after pairing up with Voyager in a deal worth up to $845 million.

The new CEO has yet to make any public pronouncements on his plans, but Sanofi Chairman Serge Weinberg said in a statement that Brandicourt's "strong experience combined with his international profile, deep knowledge of U.S. and emerging healthcare markets, and his capability to unite teams will provide new dynamism to Sanofi's strategy of diversification and innovation."

- read the announcement

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