Sanofi's Pick of Olivier Brandicourt as its new CEO: Another "Stunning Failure?" | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Last month the French pharma company, Sanofi, named Olivier Brandicourt as its new CEO. Brandicourt had been the chief executive of Bayer's health care unit and while he may eventually prove to be a visionary chief executive, at least at this point the move strikes some people as a typical example of French "Maginot Line" thinking.

The Maginot Line was the way France's military planners of the 1930s thought they could repel any German invasion. The strategic thinkers alá Francais erected a series of concrete structures along much of their eastern border. Each emplacement contained gunnery that was cemented to face the east, so it could drive back a German onslaught. The French general staff rejected arguments from Charles De Gaulle and others who argued that mobility, not static fortification, would prevail in the upcoming war. Alas, when the Germans did invade, they came through Belgium from the north and went on to conquer France in four weeks.

Statements from Sanofi's board and several observers make the point that the company named Brandicourt as CEO to deal with price erosion in the U.S. diabetes market. Diabetes accounts for more than 20% of Sanofi’s revenue.  

It puzzled many people that a company expressing concern about pricing in the U.S. market would appoint as its CEO a French physician whose work in pharmaceuticals had focused heavily on emerging markets.

Sanofi's public information people likely anticipated this skepticism because their announcement noted that before Brandicourt went to Bayer, he gained substantial U.S. experience at Pfizer by “overseeing” the Lipitor launch and the marketing management of developing metabolic compounds.

The references to Brandicourt's work at Pfizer failed to dispel the doubts.  The metabolic experience was hardly an unblemished success. A notable feature of it included the $2.8 billion write-down Pfizer had to take on Exubera, the disastrous effort to treat diabetes by inhaling insulin from an unwieldy bong. Analyst Mike Krensavage of Raymond James & Associates said at the time (2007), "This is one of the most stunning failures in the history of the pharmaceutical industry."