Right Brains Wanted: Sanofi-Aventis Wants to Tap the Creative Genius of Boston-Area Biotechs

11/11/09

Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE: SNY) hosted a large event at its R&D site in Cambridge, MA, yesterday to make its pitch for why Boston-area biotech companies should want to form partnerships with the French drug giant. It was an impressive show of force by the company, which has historically kept a lower profile in local biotech circles than some of its Big Pharma competitors.

The top brass from Sanofi were there at the firm’s Cambridge Research Center in Kendall Square. Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher outlined the global drug-maker’s plans to form stronger ties with biotech firms in Boston and around the world as part of a broader strategy to build a more sustainable business. Viehbacher also confirmed that Sanofi plans to form a venture capital unit to invest in biotech companies and further efforts to access innovation from outside of the company.

Sanofi, like many other Big Pharma companies, is looking outside of its organization to biotech firms for what Viehbacher called the “right brain activity” that leads to creativity and innovation. Sanofi’s shift toward more external product development efforts includes a partnership deal with Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, announced last month, focused on the Cambridge, MA-based biotech’s experimental antibody drug for cancer. There’s a good reason for this: the large and expensive internal R&D organizations of Big Pharma companies like Sanofi haven’t been productive enough. Over the next several years Sanofi is facing patent expirations on some of its biggest sellers, such as anti-clotting drug clopidogrel bisulfate (Plavix) and the sleeping pill zolpidem (Ambien).

“We all know there is a patent cliff in this industry, and it goes from 2012 to 2014,” Viehbacher said. “But my goal isn’t just to fill a sales gap,” it’s to build a sustainable business. (Viehbacher spoke to Xconomy at length in June about his strategy for building sustainable business at Sanofi.)

Sanofi has been in Massachusetts for more than a decade, but the company has been less active in partnering with biotechs in the state than other Big Pharma outfits. The company conducts a wide variety of genomic research at its Cambridge Research Center on Albany Street, and last year the firm expanded its presence in the state with its acquisition of British vaccine developer Acambis, which has operations in Cambridge and Canton, MA. This year the company has formed alliances with … Next Page »

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