November 19, 2015 / 9:59 PM / 4 years ago

Former Sanofi CEO Viehbacher to bankroll new drugs

(Reuters) - Chris Viehbacher, ousted last year after six years as CEO of French drugmaker Sanofi, is settling into a new job that involves picking promising experimental drugs before they have been tested in human trials.

Sanofi's Chairman of the Board of Directors and interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Serge Weinberg attends the company's 2014 annual results presentation in Paris February 5, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Viehbacher, pushed out amid declining sales of Sanofi’s top-selling diabetes drug, is now managing partner of Gurnet Point Capital, a healthcare investment fund started in 2013. The firm said on Thursday it had created a new drug-development company, Boston Pharmaceuticals, that can tap in to $600 million in available funds.

Viehbacher, who will be chairman of the Boston-based startup, said he has always been most interested in the science and innovative aspects of the industry.

“I could never devote enough time to that as a big company CEO. That’s what I get to do now,” he told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

Viehbacher, whose resume also includes a 20-year stint at British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc, now spends his work week in Boston and also has homes in Florida and Paris. In his new role he will help oversee a staff of 20 to 25 employees with expertise in developing drugs and dealing with health regulators. That is a far cry from his 110,000 employees and $5.2 billion research budget at Sanofi.

Robert Armstrong, a former research executive at Amgen Inc and Eli Lilly and Co, will be chief executive of Boston Pharmaceuticals. At Lilly, he focused on spotting promising new drugs.

The new company will also be on the hunt for drugs that are ready to prove themselves in human trials, but will outsource their development to contract research organizations.

Viehbacher said Boston Pharmaceuticals will spend little upfront for its drug candidates, and instead offer innovators equity stakes in them.

“We will find the molecules in academia, biotechs and big pharma” companies, he said. “There has been a significant increase in research productivity and there are probably more molecules around than anyone is able to develop.”

Rather than focusing on specific therapeutic areas, such as diabetes or asthma, the new company will look at underlying causes that could have applications in multiple diseases, such as inflammation or immune system ailments, Viehbacher said.

“In big pharma R&D your role is to try to make sure that you can continue these therapeutic franchises. The reality is some of the science may not be the best in that area,” he said. “That’s why we’re shying away from some of the classical therapeutic areas.”

Reporting by Ransdell Pierson in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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