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Sanofi CEO Viehbacher on Stirring Innovation in the Era of R&D Cutbacks

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what we want to do. We want to have a true partnership. They are actually managing the development of a compound, in collaboration with us. You can’t have 100 of those, which is why we’ve done just three with UCSF.

On concerns about the innovation ecosystem, and how he thinks it should adapt in a period where federal research and venture capital budgets are being cut:

I think the ecosystem has to be actively managed. What you find is that people like pieces of it, but don’t realize the whole thing has to be there. It has to start from an early commitment in public policy to education, and in deciding what types of people you are graduating. You have to have the right venture capital, you have to have an environment that favors the right kind of public/private partnerships. You have to have a regulatory environment that provides some predictability, and you have to have predictability in how customers will value your innovation. We clearly have a hurdle to deal with on reimbursement.

There is considerable concern about the regulatory piece, and both PHRMA and BIO (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Biotechnology Industry Organization) have been working to make sure the FDA has the resources to evolve their regulatory science. If you think about it, the science has evolved enormously. The way we do science has not. Can we do adaptive clinical trials? How will we use biomarkers? We need a lot more precision around risk/benefit models.

We also need a strong public research facility—it’s absolutely essential that the NIH be appropriately funded. That’s the way the West keeps the strength in its universities. I believe that those countries which keep the strength in their universities will continue to have an advantage in innovation going forward.

I think the whole thing needs to be more jazz-band like, instead of just having a bunch of soloists.

On how pharma can change its ways to become more efficient at developing new drugs:

Science has traditionally been done in a linear fashion, where you get an idea, you get funding, you take it a little further, you get some more funding, and ultimately you start partnering with Big Pharma. But by the time you get to Big Pharma, 7-8 years have passed. And the interesting thing is that today, doing a deal with Big Pharma is a pretty critical step, because the IPO window is closed, and therefore, pharma is to a degree the gatekeeper for what gets to the market. There’s a sense that pharma does a good job, because we have the depth of resources to be able to decide what’s good science, and what makes a good medical proposition.

But why wait 7-8 years? Why don’t we try to bring this multidisciplinary approach to earlier stages of science? I think that will be critical to increasing the quality of research, the rigor. Somewhere along the line, we need to chuck out things that aren’t going to work at an earlier stage.

On whether big companies like Sanofi are going to have to sacrifice some ownership of drugs if they lean more heavily on partners:

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  • jim

    agree: drug discovery is not an industry process.
    disagree: big pharmas are gatekeeper for good drug. Look at the result of sanofi-bipar 500M deal. If you cannot figure out a phase III compound, how can you make right investment on early collabration?
    Suggestion: you need to have right people to lead drug discovery, which you don’t have now.