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With no CEO, Sanofi faces battle to sell pipeline ambitions

November 13, 2014
Life sciences
(Reuters) – Sanofi has worked hard to refill its medicine chest with new drugs it will tout to investors next week, but these efforts are now clouded by a leadership vacuum and uncertainties about diabetes.
 
The timing is unfortunate. Two weeks ago, Sanofi’s board sacked its chief executive of six years, Chris Viehbacher, blaming his brusque management style.
 
His ousting, which followed a warning that sales growth at Sanofi’s top diabetes business would stall next year, stunned investors who had hailed Viehbacher’s efforts to make the firm more global.
 
The Nov. 20 investor day is the first test of the post-Viehbacher era and a challenge for Chairman Serge Weinberg, who has taken the helm while Sanofi hunts for a new boss. He has already said there will be no more guidance on financial prospects until annual results in February.
 
“Chris Viehbacher had a very clear strategy. And all that is kind of up in the air now,” said Andrea Williams, European fund manager at Royal London Asset Management, which sold part of its Sanofi holding as it waits to see who will be appointed CEO.
 
The new medicines seminar will be held at the U.S. headquarters of Sanofi’s Genzyme rare diseases unit and will focus on products set to launch next year, including the world’s first vaccine against dengue fever, its injectable cholesterol-lowering drug alirocumab and the allergy treatment dupilumab.
 
One crucial question Sanofi will face is how to rekindle its fortunes in diabetes, a market that has been its cash cow for years as obesity increases.
 
Sanofi said last month it faced tough times with its top-selling insulin Lantus in the United States – and its pricing power is set to shrink further as so-called biosimilar copies enter the market over the next two years.
 
Sanofi stockholders are thus likely to press for answers on the prospects of its longer-acting version of Lantus, dubbed Toujeo, and of an inhaled insulin called Afrezza.
 
“They have a lot going for them. It’s not a bad company,” said Geir Lode, head of Hermes Global Equities, which owns Sanofi stock. He says the group needs to clearly spell out its strategic intentions, from diabetes to mergers and acquisitions.
 
“It’s all about clarification. I feel like I’m walking in the fog now, I see nothing and I need the sun to come out.” 
 
By Natalie Huet (Editing by Ben Hirschler and Vincent Baby)

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