Ex-Wyeth Head Out Of The Running For Sanofi CEO Gig

Published: Dec 15, 2014

Ex-Wyeth Head Out Of The Running For Sanofi CEO Gig
December 12, 2014
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Ever since the board of Paris-based Sanofi ousted former CEO Chris Viehbacher, the industry has been rife with rumors over his possible replacement.

Viehbacher was fired over differences in strategy in late October. Since then, Serge Weinberg has acted as interim CEO and chair of the company. Rumored potential candidates for the top spot include Olivier Bohuon, of medical device maker Smith & Nephew Plc and Christophe Weber, current chief operating officer of Japan-based Takeda (TKPYY).

Other possibilities include Eric Cornut, chief ethics officer of Novartis AG (NVS), and Olivier Brandicourt, director of healthcare for Bayer AG (BAYZF). The position had already been offered to Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca (AZN), but he declined the role.

Another possibility included former Wyeth CEO Bernard Poussot, but Swiss-based Roche announced Friday that he was joining its board.

The dismissal of Viehbacher has grown increasingly complicated. Initially the Sanofi board indicated there were major disagreements between the board and Viehbacher over strategy. A significant part of that disagreement was over his plans to sell off the company’s portfolio of mature drugs priced at about $7.9 billion without consulting with the board.

Other factors include that Viehbacher was the first Sanofi head who was not French. In addition, he had moved to Boston several months prior to his ouster for family reasons. Despite those clashes, in his eight years with Sanofi he doubled the share price.

Weinberg has indicated that Sanofi will choose the best candidate regardless of nationality. Viehbacher often also clashed with the French government over his efforts to make the company more international in its operations, cutting French jobs.

“Chris did a great job in terms of deals and efficiencies,” said David Munno, head of pharmaceutical research at Tel Aviv-based Sphera Global Healthcare in a statement. “When he moved away from France, though, he probably disenfranchised the local board and politicians.”

Recent news suggested that there may have been more to the story. On December 4, a former paralegal for Sanofi, Diane Ponte, filed a whistleblower lawsuit in state court in Newark, N.J., claiming that the company illegally paid $34 million in kickbacks to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies.

These kickbacks were unearthed in March 2013 when Ponte was reviewing nine contracts totaling $34 million. Seven of the contracts were with Accenture, two were with Deloitte. Points in the contracts apparently illegally directed incentives from Sanofi to physicians, hospitals and pharmacies to influence them to prescribe Sanofi’s diabetes medications over other companies’ drugs.

In her lawsuit, Ponte alleges that when she resisted approving the agreements it drew the attention of Viehbacher. After she reported the fraud she was subjected to a “severe and pervasive pattern of workplace retaliation.” She was fired on Oct. 29.

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