Sanofi ($SNY) has plucked a chief scientific officer for its global R&D operations out of the top ranks at the National Institutes of Health and is relocating him to an office in Cambridge, MA, highlighting once again its high hopes of reinventing drug research inside the rich scientific environment found in the booming Massachusetts biotech hub.
Gary Nabel has been director of the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1999. NIAID is part of the NIH, which Sanofi R&D chief Elias Zerhouni had headed under President George W. Bush from 2002 to 2008. Now Nabel will report directly to Zerhouni, taking a place on the company's global leadership team. And the emphasis will remain focused on reengineering a multibillion-dollar R&D division trying to advance a new generation of leading drugs.
"Our challenges today require that we re-invent our R&D model," Zerhouni noted in a statement. "Gary's experience will be invaluable to help us achieve this goal."
Reinvention has been anything but easy for Sanofi. CEO Chris Viehbacher's attempts to restructure its French operations--downsizing a group which he says hasn't done anything significant in the past 20 years--met with fierce political and labor union opposition. Sanofi has been regrouping much of its U.S. research forces around Cambridge since it acquired Genzyme and made it the company's leader in the biologics field. In the summer of 2011 the company created the Sanofi Boston R&D Hub back in 2011, moving some of its New Jersey activities to Boston later that year.
Nabel's appointment is all part of what Reuters today calls the "Genzyming" of Sanofi, which is following the footsteps of Roche after the drug giant concentrated its U.S. R&D around its successful biologics team at Genentech. Today, pharma companies want to be known for their biotech culture. And that's increasingly coming with an American flavor.
The Big Pharma's enthusiasm for U.S. R&D over France has become so pronounced that there's been some recent scuttlebutt at the new Paris HQ about pulling out--rumors that the company has denied.
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