PARIS – Sanofi’s Chief Executive Officer Chris Viehbacher, a former GSK executive who was for several years based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. and who’s completed 32 acquisitions and 91 licensing deals in four years, says more collaborations may be a way to grow in diagnostics and nutrition.
“I believe in this health-care approach,” which means Sanofi is becoming a company focused on health, not just drugs, Viehbacher said in an interview at Sanofi’s Paris headquarters.
France’s largest drugmaker spent about 24 billion euros ($33 billion) on acquisitions and partnerships since Viehbacher took over at the end of 2008, including the $20.1 billion purchase of Genzyme Corp. The 52-year-old executive has sought to replenish Sanofi’s product pipeline and reduce its reliance on a handful of blockbusters susceptible to generic competition.
Viehbacher, who keeps a collection of antique pharmacy jars behind his desk, is also widening the company’s approach to patient needs, for example by investing in some medical devices. Sanofi introduced a product known as Auvi-Q last month in the U.S., a talking device shaped like a mobile phone and designed to guide users through an emergency allergy injection. In diabetes, where sales are driven by the Lantus insulin, the company introduced blood-metering devices in 2011, including one that connects to Apple Inc.’s iPhone.
“The marriage of digital technologies with therapeutics is a phenomenon that is only going to grow,” Viehbacher said, and Sanofi could do with “partnerships to help us understand the digital side of the business.”
Nutrition is another area that could be of interest as it hasn’t “really developed in the true sense,” Viehbacher said. “You have products that claim to be nutritious but aren’t necessarily, you have products that are very medical but aren’t really for every-day use. There’s potential.”
Sanofi said last year it had set up a joint venture with Coca-Cola Co. to sell health drinks at French pharmacies, a pilot project to test demand for beverages with beauty claims.
The company also needs “to be active in diagnostics, in bio-markers, but I think we will do that through partnerships, not acquisitions,” Viehbacher said.
Over four years, he reorganized Sanofi’s business in seven so-called growth platforms, which include businesses that range from diabetes and vaccines to animal and consumer health care. He said he isn’t thinking about adding a new platform.
“I don’t particularly want to enlarge the perimeter of the company today,” he said. He also ruled out major divestments.
The French drugmaker isn’t following the path of other pharmaceutical companies that are spinning off businesses or selling assets. Pfizer Inc. took its animal health unit public this month. Shares of the new company, called Zoetis Inc., have risen 22 percent since they were first sold at $26 Jan. 31. London-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc said yesterday it will review options, including a possible sale, for its Lucozade and Ribena drinks.
A spinoff of Sanofi’s Merial animal health business “isn’t on the agenda,” at least for now, Viehbacher said today. Sanofi also isn’t interested in buying Lucozade and Ribena, he said during the interview.
“That would be getting out of our scope,” Viehbacher said in reference to the Glaxo drinks.
In ophthalmology, drugs that treat diseases of the eye are a business that is “very much in line with what we do,” while contact lenses is a “different” business from Sanofi’s, he said. Viehbacher earlier today declined to comment on specific interest for the U.S. ophthalmology company Bausch & Lomb Inc.