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Sanofi exits diabetes, cardiovascular research as new CEO sets out his stall

Sanofi's chief executive officer Paul Hudson, at the helm barely 100 days, announced plans to exit diabetes and cardiovascular research and save €2 billion by reallocating resources in the next two years.

In his first strategy update since joining Paris-based Sanofi from Swiss pharma group Novartis AG in September, Hudson said the focus will turn to hematology, rare disease, neurology and cancer. Diabetes and cardiovascular research have historically been two of the French pharma group's most important therapeutic areas. Hudson intends to prioritize multiple sclerosis, breast cancer, a respiratory vaccine for RSV, six potentially transformative late-stage experimental therapies for hemophilia, and the oral medicine Venglustat for rare diseases including Gaucher and Fabry.

Hudson also announced a simplified, corporate structure, with the company split into three business units: a stand-alone consumer business, "supported by us, cheerleaded by us," he said; a specialty care unit; and a general medicines unit, comprising established medicines and diabetes and cardiovascular products.

"We'll be out of diabetes and cardiovascular research — not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history," Hudson said on a Dec. 9 conference call with reporters ahead of Sanofi's strategy day. "We recognize it's getting more difficult to get breakthrough innovation. We also recognize that we have to be efficient and move our resources to areas of opportunity both unmet need and to grow our top line."

"So, as tough a choice as that is, we're making that choice," Hudson continued.

The CEO sounded a cautious note on the cardiovascular and rheumatoid arthritis markets, notably around Praluent and Kevzara, where resources will be more efficiently deployed. But Hudson said vaccines offer a tremendous opportunity to bring innovation. He predicts growth of mid- to high single-digit compound annual growth rate over the next several years for vaccines alone.

While he pledged to continue to drive sales of Sanofi's blockbuster Dupixent medicine to "well beyond €10 billion for peak year sales" by increasing its use in adjacent inflammatory illnesses to asthma and eczema, he is open-minded about the co-commercialization deal with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., which was first agreed in 2007.

The two companies ended their R&D alignment two years ago, but Dupixent, Kevzara and Praluent continue to be co-commercialized with the U.S. company.

"We have a very good relationship with Regeneron. It's working incredibly well but as the lockup period begins to end on our equity, as always we will look at the equity and decide, where can it yield the best results for our organization? It may be as simple as leave it where it is. It also may be as simple as redeploy it again [to] other opportunities. We have to be open-minded," he said.

Regarding M&A, Sanofi, which earlier announced buying California-based Synthorx for $2.5 billion to gain ground in immuno-oncology, said it would be open to anything that adds incremental innovation, in a price bracket of $2 billion to $5 billion.

"We are embarking on the next chapter, and we've taken our first steps to ensure that we can do what we do best which is to deliver medicines that will change lives," Hudson said.