UPDATED: Sanofi CEO touts partnership drugs as pipeline standouts

Chris Viehbacher (photo) named three of the programs in Sanofi's pipeline that excite him the most in a recent interview with the Boston Business Journal, and the trio of programs all stem from deals with external drug developers, underscoring the French drug giant's strategy to increase its bets on partnerships to fill its pipeline.

Asked to list the standouts in Sanofi's ($SNY) pipeline, Viehbacher mentioned the PCSK9 inhibitor his company is developing in partnership with Regeneron ($REGN), the MS drug Lemtrada acquired in his company's Genzyme buyout, and an experimental vaccine for dengue fever from another acquired biotech, Acambis. Given some of the success of these programs in clinical trials, it's no surprise to see Viehbacher double down on partnerships as a focus of his company's R&D strategy.

As he has in the past, Viehbacher told the BBJ that he'd like to see a 50-50 ratio of external and internal R&D programs at his company, and he explained his rationale for adding more collaborations and partnerships with external groups into the mix. Clearly, the pharma industry veteran and accountant by training likes his odds of success better with Sanofi sharing the high risk of drug development with other players.

"Well the reality is that if you fail more than you succeed, and you keep everything, you are keeping a lot of losses," the CEO told the business newspaper. "So I think there is an element of understanding that you are better off owning a piece of something that's going to succeed, rather than owning all of a lot of things that are probably going to fail. It's extremely important, that cultural shift, because unless you believe it in your heart, you'll never get a decent collaboration."

Still, Sanofi could use some decent new drugs to boost its sales after reporting lackluster revenue for 2011. Lemtrada, which had received mixed reviews from analysts, is epected to be submitted for FDA review for treating multiple sclerosis this year, and Sanofi could have a major blockbuster on its hands if REGN727, its PCSK9-targeting drug for lowering cholesterol, succeeds in planned Phase III trials and gains approval.

- read the interview

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Correction: Lemtrada has not been submitted for FDA review, as was reported in this article initially. Lemtrada is due to be submitted for U.S. and European regulators for review in the second quarter of 2012, according to a representative for Sanofi. We regret the error.