Sanofi contacted AstraZeneca's Soriot over CEO role: report

According to people close to the matter, Sanofi contacted AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot earlier this year about replacing Chris Viehbacher as chief executive, Bloomberg reported. The sources suggested that Soriot, who previously worked at Aventis, one of Sanofi's predecessor companies, declined the interest.

On Wednesday, Sanofi's board voted unanimously to remove Viehbacher from his position, with chairman Serge Weinberg replacing him on an interim basis (for related analysis, see ViewPoints: Confusion envelops Sanofi). Weinberg, who cited numerous issues, including Viehbacher's management style, as being behind the decision, remarked "we are deeply committed to being an international company. There shouldn’t be any misunderstanding about the issue of the French versus the rest of the world." Weinberg indicated that the search for a successor is set to mainly focus on external candidates.

People suggested that Smith & Nephew CEO Olivier Bohuon may be a candidate for the CEO role at Sanofi, having previously worked at Pierre Fabre, Abbott and GlaxoSmithKline. Sources also named Roch Doliveux, who is set to step down next year as chief executive of UCB, as another possible candidate. Meanwhile, Leerink Partners analyst Seamus Fernandez said former Wyeth CEO Bernard Poussot would be "a strong choice for the role assuming a willingness to exit retirement." Fernandez remarked "identifying a compelling shareholder-friendly but experienced pharmaceutical executive willing to challenge the status quo seems highly unlikely."

Industry commentator Erik Gordon from the University of Michigan suggested that Sanofi's "board will have trouble attracting a world-class drug company CEO," adding "it is unappealing to work for that board and to try to compete globally while being sure to stay French enough for their tastes." For related analysis, see ViewPoints: Where will Sanofi look for its next CEO?

Meanwhile, two people familiar with the situation said that Elias Zerhouni, Sanofi's head of R&D, will stay at the company, Bloomberg reported. One person noted that the executive, who was hired by Viehbacher in 2009, detailed his commitment to the drugmaker and its strategy during an internal management conference call on Wednesday. Another source suggested that Zerhouni is unlikely to leave Sanofi before some of the products he has shepherded, such as the basal insulin Toujeo (insulin glargine), clear regulatory hurdles.

"Sanofi's management remains mobilised to pursue the group's strategy," remarked company spokesman Gregory Miley, adding "no other change to the management team is planned."

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