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What Sanofi Thinks About You

In case you’re a scientist, and especially if you’re a scientist at Sanofi, their CEO Chris Viehbacher would like you to know some things. What things are those, you ask? Well, how about your position in the world, and especially your position at Sanofi itself?

“What Sanofi is doing is reducing its own internal research capacity. The days when we locked all of our scientists up in a building and put them on a nice tree-lined campus are done. We will do less of our own research. We’re not going to get out of research. We believe we do certain things well in research but we want to work with more outside companies, startup biotechs, with universities.”

You know, people with real ideas, innovative stuff, that kind of thing. When asked if this was cheaper, Viehbacher replied:

“It is cheaper. But research and development is either a huge waste of money or too, too valuable. It’s not really anything in between. You don’t really do things because it’s cheaper. The reality is the best people who have great ideas in science don’t want to work for a big company. They want to create their own company. So, in other words, if you want to work with the best people, you’re going to have go outside your own company and work with those people … And, you want to work with them, why do they want to work with you? The reality over the last 10 years is, (a small biotech) wouldn’t get caught dead working with one of these big cumbersome pharma companies. Once you have a funding gap, suddenly there’s a much greater willingness of earlier-stage companies to work with Big Pharma. We’re looking earlier and people who are early need help.

So, if you’re one of Sanofi’s dwindling number of internal scientists, at least now you know what you’re being treated the way you are. It’s because you’re, well, you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed. If your company really wants something to happen, they’ll need to bypass you and find someone good. Sticking you in a nice building and telling you to discover stuff hasn’t worked out, clearly, and blame must be attached somewhere. Right?
At least Viehbacher has enough self-knowledge to know what people outside his company thinks of it (and its ilk). But hey, now that the people who can actually discover things are desperate, opportunity knocks! This is a business plan known as “So, you need a deal real bad? Well, here’s a really bad deal!” And it’s the sort of arrangement that just makes everyone happy all around. When asked about working with venture capital firms (as Sanofi recently did with the unfortunately named Warp Drive Bio), the response was:

“There’s two reasons I like (working with venture capital firms). One is, they can sometimes bring competencies we don’t have, like for instance in how to help a startup company. The second thing is to give you a second opinion. Somebody in your company is going to love the science and be championing this internally. But you want to have a second opinion. If you have a venture capital company that’s willing to put money in, that kind of gives a little validation of that.”

Those people in his own company again! Nothing but trouble. You wonder, though, what happens when someone inside Sanofi thinks that some hot startup deal might not be a good idea. I wonder if everyone was in love with Warp Drive Bio, for example? No matter – a VC firm was willing to put actual money into the thing, so that’s pretty much all the validation anyone needs. Investors in the public markets, though, are apparently fools, because they think that because a big pharma company is interested, that means that a small company might have something going for it:

“The new model, where we’re trying to go, we believe that Big Pharma has competencies in validation. So, if a Big Pharma company does a deal with a smaller company, the smaller company’s share price goes up because people believe that Big Pharma has depth of competencies to judge whether this science is any good or not. Now big companies, and not just Big Pharma, big companies I believe, are not any good at doing innovation. There has to be some element of disruptive thinking to have innovation and I can tell you that big companies do everything to avoid any disruptive thinking in their companies.”

Hah! The investors should read Viehbacher’s interview, and realize that the sort of scientists who work inside a big company like his wouldn’t know an innovation if it slithered up their leg.
Now, there are points to be made about large organizations, and about disruptive thinking, and about various models for drug discovery and for funding ideas. But you know, at the moment, I’m too disgusted to make them.
Update: comments have been disabled now, due to the large volume of them and the follow-up post. Any thoughts can be directed over there – thanks!

94 comments on “What Sanofi Thinks About You”

  1. Curryworks says:

    Me thinks the man forgets that University call statistical significance n=3 and on of those points can be dropped if it does not really match. Better yet, I have yet to meet a PhD that received a degree on negative results same for professors and tenure.

  2. jclh1995 says:

    One word: Bipar.

  3. Ellen Clark says:

    Thank you for this excellent post. I am shaking because I am so mad. How insulting. The CEO needs to take a lesson from his own HR( oh wait, maybe they have been outsourced too) in how not to alienate your employees with rude remarkes, especially those made public. He should also remember that many of the biotech people came originally from big pharma. Were they dumb while working in pharma before going to the enlightened land of biotech? I recruit for biotech and pharma and believe me there are dullards in both camps. This blame game is all so sad.

  4. Industry GUy says:

    I wish I had and extensive array of 2,4-diaminopyrimidines on hand to sell……

  5. fb says:

    Does ne not have a point though?
    On one hand on this blog we have people complaining about Pharma being too slow to innovate, yet when a pharma CEO says it he is being direspectful.

  6. Eric says:

    Viehbacher is an accountant by training, a bean counter at his roots. I suppose he’s uncomfortable with the nuances of good vs bad science, and for that matter good vs mediocre scientists (as opposed to the more comfortable generic FTEs). From his perspective it’s probably neat to be able to buy and sell stuff rather than create value by doing fundamental research. That research is messy stuff and the value/$ is a frustratingly intangible tangle of strategy, scientific vision, and luck. Messy.

  7. drug_hunter says:

    #5 fb – the problem is NOT primarily with the scientists in Pharma. There are tons of smart people in every company. the problem is in the organizational structure, the short-term thinking, the constant reorgs that cause FUD, the bureaucracy, and so forth.
    Is collaboration good? Of course.
    Can startups bring fresh thinking? Of course.
    But are all the scientists at Sanofi second-rate? What a horrible thought.
    IMHO Viehbacher’s comments have just single-handedly dropped the productivity of his internal organization by at least 10%.

  8. The days when we locked all of our scientists up in a building and put them on a nice tree-lined campus are done.
    Yes, because we all know that never worked out for Bell Labs, IBM, Merck and any number of scientifically productive companies. Putting scientists in a building on a nice tree-lined campus and asking them to come up with ideas?? What a pathetically quaint, alien notion!

  9. A few comments:
    1) When was in R&D at a big pharma, I worked with some of the brightest and most innovative people I have ever met. Were there people there who were hiding in the bureaucracy and contributing little? Of course, but not many.
    2) Why did those bright people work there? Because working for a well funded R&D organization has a lot of benefits. Compared to when I was in academia, you could do a lot more at a big pharma since you had the infrastructure and budget to support your work. And innovative work was being done, however…
    3) You can be as innovative as you want, but when some guy 10 levels above you in the org chart decides to kill your project, there isn’t much you can do about it.
    The sad thing about this article is that Viehbacher is making these comments as if none of this is under his control. He’s the CEO!!
    Let’s look at his claims:
    Bright people don’t want to work for Sanofi —> Viehbacher could fix that
    The R&D being done at Sanofi isn’t innovative —> Viehbacher could fix that
    He doesn’t seem to realize that all his comments are a condemnation of his own tenure as head of Sanofi.
    And he looks to VCs for validation of start-ups? Wow! I’m sure they have NO incentive at all to give a positive validation because they don’t need a big pharma to acquire the company do they? They can just do an IPO to get their exit. Right? 😉

  10. DCRogers says:

    Not mentioned, but one of the reasons Big Pharma is looking for earlier-stage deals is because they want more say in structuring the trials — say, in combination with other drugs in their portfolios.
    Wait too long and you may discover those smart biotechies used your existing treatment as the baseline to beat, then did…
    Searching through the chaff of rejected competencies, and I’m left with his belief that Big Pharma is best a gussied-up VC firm with a marketing arm.

  11. Hap says:

    Bing, 9 in one. Why is it (at least according to upper management) that everything in an organization is ineffective except the people who designed it and helped to make it that way, who are apparently invaluable (despite the fact that the organization was more valuable and useful when they weren’t there)?

  12. jd says:

    The anti-academia vitriol in this blog is nearing comical proportions. I guess it was bound to happen given the current situation in industry. I’d be a millionaire if I had penny for every time I heard how university research is good for basic training and lab barbecues, but when you really want some tangible results, then you have to call in the ‘real men’ from industry. I wish we could have a huge conference where everyone in academia would conceded that industry scientists are superior human beings and be done with it. At least we wouldn’t have to endure all the huffy snickering – which for many people seems to emanate from some warped and deep-seated insecurity.
    By the way, I think it is definitely true that the number of brilliant scientists choosing industry is in decline. Who could blame them? This fat cat has somewhat of a point. The irony is that this situation is due in part to CEOs like this. And with universities reluctant to add many faculty these days, many of the smartest people really are starting their own small ventures or even doing something else completely.
    Sure, I wish we could go back the industry and academia landscape of the 90s. Everyone was happy and friendly… tree-lined campuses for all! But, he’s right, those days aren’t coming back.

  13. lynn says:

    Grrrr. I particularly agree with your point, Derek, that Sanofi, and other Big Pharma, have been ridding themselves of internal scientific expertise – and at the same time think that those left behind can make rational decisions about start-ups and biotechs to acquire or with which to partner. And, oh yes…let’s ask the VCs to tell us what good science is.
    It’s been my experience that, at least in the good old days, the early stages of discovery were really improved by the interactions possible at a big pharmaceutical company. Biologists and chemists talking to one another; someone doing a small scale pilot screen, coming up with an interesting hit, getting a friendly chemist to do a little exploratory work, someone willing to test a lead in an animal model. Discovery was done [or at least started] below the radar. Now it seems there are ground-sweeping spotlights in the prison yard [that ex-tree lined campus], preventing anyone from doing anything innovative.

  14. Aspirin says:

    Wow, just wow. I think 9 nailed it. What Viebacher is essentially saying is that nobody wants to work for Sanofi because he has failed to provide an environment conducive to research. And after his statements who would want to work there? Does this man have no sense of decency?

  15. DCRogers says:

    The days when we locked all of our scientists up in a building and put them on a nice tree-lined campus are done.

    I couldn’t help but think of Bridgewater, sadly.

  16. RadJA says:

    If you look back at some data (from previous reviews in Nature) the biggest reasons for compound failure are lack of efficacy, bad tox and “business decisions”. Business decisions significantly influence the risk tolerance in a company, and the scientific pursuit of “innovation”. Scientists do not make these business decisions (which occur at many stages of discovery and development). Management does. So who’s failure is it that big companies are not “innovative”? Look in the mirror Mr. Viehbacher. Combining a mandate for speed to market over anything else, what would you expect? Speed to market and low risk tolerance sets the boundaries for the level of innovation and sets the stage for failure, more so than the quality of your scientists. Any one remember Bell Labs? A recent article in the NYT illustrates how Bell was successful, and it wasn’t the model articulated by Viehbacher.

  17. Hap says:

    12: Can you tell me the academic companies that have become successful drug companies? VRTX comes to mind, but I don’t think the list is long.
    The days of segregated and secure researchers aren’t coming back, but neither, it seems, are the days of drug companies actually making drugs. Apparently, however, the days of making lots of money for explaining why it’s everyone else’s fault that you aren’t doing your job are still here. I wonder why students don’t want to go into careers in science, again?

  18. john says:

    So the best minds in science don’t want to work for a big company?
    Shouldn’t a large company adapt to this, change the way they employ people, adapt their structure to the changing labor markets?
    It sounds like they can’t compete for talent so they’re taking their ball and going home. Step up and compete, or get out of the game. If you only want to play when others play by rules that favor you you’re not gonna have any friends. I wouldn’t be Sanofis friend at this point, would you?

  19. CR says:

    @#3, Ellen Clark:
    “The CEO needs to take a lesson from his own HR( oh wait, maybe they have been outsourced too) in how not to alienate your employees with rude remarkes…”
    HAHAHAHAHAHA…..Oh, thank you for the comedy relief, awesome.
    Seriously, this may be as stupid of a remark as Viebacher’s. HR departments are there to alienate people. They are not there to help. HR and recruiters are only there to further their own careers, not for the employees.
    Specifically to Sanofi’s HR department, one of the most horrible in the industry. I remember once, sending an email to my HR rep asking a simple question. Without getting a reply after several days I was able to find the answer – and then 6 months later got an auto-reply from a read receipt that my email was deleted without reading. Yes, Sanofi’s HR was so bad the employees had to read receipt to make sure their emails were opened.

  20. ProteinChemist says:

    @12: Not sure where you are seeing this dislike for academia? Especially on this post? It seems the only mention was in #9, where the poster mentions the money discrepancy. I should hardly think that is news – only the top grants give comparable money and resources, and only the top schools have open core facilities to somewhat level the playing field. This is compared to industry where the number of top research institutions may be similar, but the money involved is much greater. I don’t think this is a slight against academia, merely a statement of fiscal reality. The truth is that academics do have somewhat more freedom in the scope of their research, but they, too, must fulfill the stipulations of their grants. In the end it all comes back to the money – who gets it and how they want to spend it. If Sanofi wants to spend it on CRO’s, that is their business, but the resources involved in quality control are going to be enormous. The resources involved in internal damage control had better be enormous too…

  21. johnnyboy says:

    Holy f****ing shit. I’m speechless (apart from expletives). Everything #9 said, plus: “…the best people (…) don’t want to work for a big company” essentially means that Viehbacher himself is kinda shit, doesn’t it ?
    Kudos to him for at least saying clearly what he thinks; other CEOs are never as clear as that, although it’s probably what they’re all thinking.
    With this kind of reasoning, I think it’s safe to add Sanofi to the pile of soon-to-be-toast big pharmas. I give them 10 years before they’re just selling generics, toothpaste and breath freshener.

  22. You're Pfizered says:

    I was thinking the same thing about his honesty. I’m sure there are plenty of other CEOs who think along these lines but would never say it publicly. I’m just not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing. At least you know where you stand and your long term prospects.
    I’m sure the morale is soaring over in the Sanofi labs this week…

  23. pete says:

    You’re entitled to your thoughts but BAD MOVE Mr. Viebacher.
    And on a cynical note:
    “So, if a Big Pharma company does a deal with a smaller company, the smaller company’s share price goes up because people believe that Big Pharma has depth of competencies to judge whether this science is any good or not.”
    — why does GSK/Sirtris come to mind here ?

  24. Anonymous says:

    to Hap @17
    Vertex founded by ex-Merck guy Josh Boger.

  25. simpl says:

    This is too one-sided, so I’ll play devil’s advocate. The most expensive thing in research is a top-class creative person. He/she keeps generating ideas which really should be followed up. So 99% of your R&D need to channel their creativity towards following up. The whole of development works like this, early research is a bit freer, but constrained in other ways, e.g. with therapeutic areas or lead development projects.
    This does not mean that follow-up researchers are second class, it results from having to produce valuable products out of ideas.
    His point is correct that many of the initial ideas can come from outside a company – but that is the cheap part. So we keep reading publications, and building contacts to capture and act on these.
    He is also right that external R&D groups try to increase the value of an idea by following up themselves – biotech has opened up this opportunity more.
    His conclusion that he will use external ideas more may come from a mistrust of his researchers, or his R&D management. Or it may come from the topic often discussed here, that R&D value is dropping across pharma.

  26. ExGenxer says:

    What a tool!! I send my sincere regrets to Viebacher’s scientific serfs for his absurd and empty-headed comments. Just what I’d expect from an overpaid, in-above-his-head accountant (thanks, #6!). I totally agree with all, his sad-ass thoughts on the perceived decline of his industry are more reflective of what he, and his ilk at every other big pharma, have brought on themselves. Sheesh….

  27. anana-mouse says:

    “Now big companies, and not just Big Pharma, big companies I believe, are not any good at doing innovation. There has to be some element of disruptive thinking to have innovation and I can tell you that big companies do everything to avoid any disruptive thinking in their companies.”
    Gee, I guess Apple mustof kinda, sorta… hell, they’re …effective and innovative!

  28. RickW says:

    Really stunning what is happening in pharma. Can you imagine the CEO of Microsoft saying “we don’t know how to write code any more. We’re going to buy it from other people who must be smarter than us.”

  29. RD says:

    {{wiping eyes, catching breath, selling Sanofi stock}}

  30. anon2 says:

    There has been a time when I thought that GSK made a mistake in letting Viehbacher leave. No longer. It’s obvious that Viehbacher has had a long, long drink of tainted biotech Kool-Aid.

  31. smurf says:

    Ad number eight: Merck, Bell and IBM are not really good examples.
    Bell did not manage to commercialise anything. IBM was a basket case before a CEO led turnaround in the 90ies. And Merck, well, has not been really productive for a very long time.

  32. MedChem says:

    “There has to be some element of disruptive thinking to have innovation and I can tell you that big companies do everything to avoid any disruptive thinking in their companies.”
    Chris Viehbacher was right on! I work at a big pharma and could’ve said all the things he said in this interview. I don’t see why there are so many negative comments here. My question is if I need funding for my own biotech what channels do I go through to get Sanofi’s financial surpport, which Viehbacher alluded to.

  33. smurf says:

    Sanofi seems to copy Pfizer. Or, in other words: both companies listen to a few Harvard educated management gurus and consultants. It is a very small world indeed ….

  34. CR says:

    He is correct in stating that the best scientists are no longer in Big Pharma. What he fails to mention though, is that he and all his cronies fired them all.
    Kind of like complaining your house leaks when it rains but not mentioning you removed the roof.

  35. Hap says:

    24: Yeah, not sure what I was thinking – I read Billion Dollar Molecule not that long ago, so I should have remembered. From the other side, I don’t think I’d take Ariad as an example, either.

  36. Student says:

    He basically just outlined a model-of-desperation. “We don’t have anything brewing, so we hope to look elsewhere and bring those guys down with us.”
    How are institutional investors justifying this holding?

  37. Pharma Giles says:

    You can see now why the GSK board rejected J.P. Garnier’s preferred choice of successor and went for Sir Andrew instead. GSK had a lucky escape…

  38. PigFarmer says:

    Looks like this is Viehbacher’s Ratner Moment.
    Get used to counting a much smaller number of beans, pal!

  39. smurf says:

    The crisis in pharma is also a scientific crisis, but it is first and foremost a managerial crisis: we do not seem to be able to manage a very complex process, a process that cannot be described by simple metrics.
    We are doomed.

  40. portia.vz says:

    Student: This is not a model of desperation. This is part of the plan. The idea is to get rid of all of the variable costs, like actual people with lives and families, and go scouting around for carrion. That carrion are the small biotechs that are struggling to meet payroll and all of the other overhead they need to discover a drug. The plan is for the pharmas to sit on capital and find someone with whom they can make a deal. It will be an offer the little guy cannot refuse. Something like, sell us your patents at rock bottom prices and we won’t let you go bankrupt.
    What’s not to love? It’s perfect! They have moved from being a pharma discovery company to an investment company. The amount of capital required will be very little and the potential payoff is enormous. No employees to worry about, no health care insurance to pay, no messy pensions. Just an unlimited supply of cheap and desperate scientists working for someone else.
    We’re stupid if we don’t organize and nip this baby in the bud. We need our own lobbyists and professional organization. And we need to relocate as many labs to the midwest where the cost of living is less. Otherwise, they are going to exploit us like plantation workers. Wait and see.

  41. Anon says:

    He has previously said that deal was specifically about Verdine:
    “The Warp Drive Bio project is interesting because it demonstrates where we want to go. It was certainly an unusual deal for Sanofi, because essentially what we’ve done is jointly fund a startup biotech company. It was very much on the basis of saying we want to work with (Harvard University chemical biologist) Greg Verdine. Someone like that isn’t going to come work for Big Pharma, but we liked the science he was doing.”
    I don’t think he was insulting all big pharma employees, just saying that he wants to use the ideas from top professors who have the freedom to explore crazy new science. Freedom that pharma employees presumably don’t have. @9: It would never be cost effective to give them that freedom to explore early-stage stuff that academics do.

  42. Ricardo Ros says:

    The only questions left is: “Don’t do good CEOs only stay on small companies?”

  43. JasonP says:

    What an ass this guy is. He reminds me of the excuse making coward that is head of Eli Lilly. These clueless, cowardly fools create an environment within their own companies that is absolutly unforgiving of risk taking, mistakes or thinking outside the box. THEY create this environment in an endless and hopeless quest to trim away costs with next quarter thinking. They additionally make bold huge bogus claims about what their company can do to garner interest. This has been going on for a while and now they are at the point that they are reaping the rewards of their poor decisions. The lack of progress is their own damn fault.

  44. jd says:

    @41: yep
    @43: Agreed. But what is hilarious is the fact that many of the same people that constantly whine about how impractical and aloof academic research is, are the same ones clamoring for more creativity and risk taking in industry.

  45. cynical1 says:

    A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.
    – General of the Armies John J. Pershing

  46. 31: My point was about great discoveries improving human life, but anyway: Bell – transistor, CCD, lasers, Unix to name a few. And this of course excludes all the Nobel Prizes. Ironically, Bell also developed the precursor to Six Sigma which must be some kind of cruel cosmic joke.

  47. CR says:

    The real question here is: Why the outrage? Why does this even merit discussion?
    We all know this is what every Big Pharma thinks about their employees – every single one of them. I know, and others have commented, regarding that its surprising to actually hear these statements being uttered outside of the boardroom – but it’s perfectly clear that every company’s CEO thinks this way.

  48. RespiSci says:

    More from the article Derek cited:
    “You will never get any innovation if you’re not prepared to take the risk. The amount of money at risk is not as much as it costs me to mow the lawns in front of all our research and development facilities.”
    Ahh…hence an impetus to do away with those tree-lined campuses so as to save landscaping costs….
    “The really risky part of our business is the time you go into phase 3. We have an asset that’s probably going to cost a billion dollars. That’s a whole lot more risky going into a phase 3 billion-dollar program than investing probably $10 million in an early stage asset. I want to be more risk averse going into development, but I’m probably going to be much more willing to take the risk at an early stage.”
    ….Yes, phase 3 is expensive and still carries risks…I fail to see how going to biotech is going to get around this but perhaps Chris Veihbacher can enlighten me…..

  49. MoMo says:

    Viebacher should get a Gold Medal for reading and speaking between the lines for the Pharma Industry! It sends all of you and Derek and others still caught in assembly-line Big Pharma Malaise into panic mode obviously! Combi-chem! Genomics, Proteomics! Oh MY!
    This is not about academia or industry attitudes towards research and innovation, this is about how decrepit the Pharma Industry is at research these days and valid attempts to go around the traditional model(s) of nothingness.
    And dont bash Warp Drive and their success so far, as I see few ideas coming from big companies relying on few drugs to build their new seaside villas.

  50. HelicalZz says:

    Problem is, even if right he is wrong. Academics tends to train for the skills, but not necessarily how to apply them to industry needs. How many of these ‘best people’ got jobs in big pharma and then left for biotech-land leaving behind relationships within the big pharma. Quite a few I’d venture (pun intended). Where will they come from if big pharma isn’t doing research? How will big pharma know who they even are? Research may very well be hit or miss, but education and experience aren’t.

  51. pipetodevnull says:

    There aren’t enough expletives all in caps for this. Mr. Viehbacher’s paycheck must be addressed to Dante’s 9th circle.
    Gotta say though, he sounds amusingly familiar to a bunch of goons who are in government to dismantle it and fill the air with flatus about how useless and inefficient it is.
    @portia.vz “they are going to exploit us like plantation workers”–amen to that, the current economy and state of drug development have made it insanely difficult for those without a whopping pile of currency.

  52. Kugelrohr says:

    Viehbacher must be crazy to make statements like this, on the other hand, it is true: Big Pharma is not the gold standard any more and not necessarily a magnet for the best talent. Small biotech increasingly draws the best talent and they are extremely productive… and often better compensated than in Big Pharma – thanks to stock options. In the end an entrepreneurial environment will always outperform the rigid structures of a big organization.

  53. Ed says:

    #52 – if you are a lab scientist at a biotech, it is highly likely that
    a) the company will fold having done nothing of any consequence whatsoever, or
    b) will be a roaring success, but unfortunately you will have been binned before your “valuable” stock options are worth anything so that the company can focus on developing its clinical assets.
    Either way, in the majority of cases, stock options are a worthless gimmick to the rank and file of a biotech organization.

  54. Just sayin' says:

    Is there any reason to think that Mr. Viebacher’s comments about research do not also apply to the management at this company. . .right up to the top?

  55. Chemcat says:

    “But you want to have a second opinion.”
    Perhaps it would have been best if Viehbacher had asked for a second opinion on his responses before actually using them in an interview.

  56. Mr. Fixit says:

    OK, maybe I am just a PhD Med Chemist, but I think he is flat out wrong and needs to learn how to run a business. My understanding is as a business grows it can (in theory) gain efficiency through size. Shouldn’t big pharma’s R & D be set up like a biotech? Shouldn’t B.D. be set up like a V.C.? Then all those profits could be kept internal and the share holders would be happy. These people need to start to think long term as opposed to the next board meeting!

  57. newnickname says:

    @33: I thought Pfizer was run McKinsey, not Harvard?
    Does anyone recall the double-page ads by, I think, Astra-Zeneca (or maybe Novartis) in C&EN around 2000-2002 proclaiming something like ‘Creativity wanted. Seeking the most creative people to fill 500 positions in med chem (drug research?).’ (not an exact quote, but “creative” or “creativity” was in there with “500”). I think they fell short of their goal … on purpose. Just not as blatantly as Viebacher.

  58. Kugelrohr says:

    @53: Dear Ed, unfortunately you don’t know what you are taking about. After my Postdoc I turned down big Pharma offers and went to a Biotech instead. In five years as a MedChem PhD my stock options have gained dramatically – enough to outperform any Big Pharma compensation. Most of the options are on a one-year vesting schedule which is pretty common for Biotech. Maybe it doesn’t happen to every Biotech scientist but stock options can play a big role. They are great incentive Big Pharma cannot offer.

  59. non-pharma chemist says:

    My, a tough day at Sanofi. Management is the disease. I’ve been wondering recently if they really believe their fatuous nonsense, or if they just coldly and cynically espouse it, or if they believe out of expedience. No way to tell, really…

  60. CMCguy says:

    As others have mentioned I think it is a sad reality that Big Pharma no wonder struggle to be productive since has Riffed or drove away so much talent in the past couple decades, mostly via management favored M&As modes, which is how Sanofi “grew”. Building empires and making money quickly replaced the objective of directing science to create new and profitable drugs. However it is very naive to attempt to evaluate and acquire viable drug projects from small biotechs, much less academia, with out appropriately trained and savvy people to perform that function (assume will just outsource the due diligence to consultants). Further more often than not it takes considerable effort to just cover gaps and progress programs that were inadequately resourced (knowledge and funding-wise) therefore is very inefficient and more costly in the end. In general Big Pharma’s bureaucratic burden is terrible and too many players what credit without contribution but there seems to be much wasted potential that could be focused with culture changes. This “we’ll buy what is needed and then market model” suggest will lead to a dead-end which likely will take good companies and people down, while of course the Execs get hefty salaries and bonuses.

  61. ex Sanofi says:

    Worked there in the past and not much has changed. They never wanted to invest the $$ to match the number of targets they wanted to be in, would not invest in technology to keep up with the rest. Result=Rarely develop any compounds internally and everything has to be liscenced in. They have good scientists but there are limits to what they can do with inept management.

  62. zippy says:

    How could we all have missed this. The only thing lacking in the WarpBio/Sanofi announcement is a little Synergy, Six Sigma, Best Practices and Assymetry. From the business section.
    “Warp Drive Bio is leading the reemergence of natural products in the era of genomics to create breakthrough therapies targeting critical biological pathways, particularly those that are currently considered ‘undruggable,’” the release said. “Built upon the belief that nature is the world’s most powerful medicinal chemist, Warp Drive Bio is deploying a battery of state-of-the-art technologies to access powerful drugs that are now hidden within microbes. Key to the Warp Drive Bio approach is the company’s proprietary ‘genomic search engine’ that enables hidden natural products to be revealed on the basis of their distinctive genomic signature.”

  63. Cellbio says:

    Derek, a firm handshake and warm slap on the back for the topic and dissection of Viehbacher’s, hmmm, thoughts?
    Great comments too, only thought I’d add relates to the simplicity of his thinking, sadly a too real problem of our so called leaders.
    First, the best people don’t want to work in big companies? Bullshit. I have known two phenomenal med chemists, one did great things in a large company, then left, for all the reasons you’d expect. The other, despite my asking him to leave and start a company, would never leave. Why? because he had everything he needed to make drugs that were properly resourced through development and could make an impact in human health. The guy that left, has made a pipeline of drugs, some entering the clinic later this year. Common core skills, great chemists, deep knowledge of the industry, highly successful with many molecules into the clinic, different interpersonal skills and aptitude for putting personal compensation at risk. Same goes for biologists. Best guy I know is not suited for start-up land and does best when creating his ideas in an environment that is steady and safe. He also could never sell like is needed in small companies. His “purity” as a scientists requires him to be supported by an environment found in pharma or large biotech. This thought of one personality type embodying brilliance and creativity is ridiculous and anyone of modest experience in managing scientists would know that.
    Secondly, anyone looking at the true history of start-up value creation, as in meaningful products, not deals done and money into founders and investors pockets, and then compare that to deals and money flow shouldn’t conclude the defining attribute for success is being the “best people”. The best story tellers, most willing to stretch the truth, most dynamic, ….most, best, brightest of any number of personality traits that serve people like Bernie Madoff rather than a scientist whose way of thinking has been marginalized, trivialized and sidelined to such a degree in pharma that pharma is suffering.
    Yes, let’s double down on this insanity!

  64. Quo vadis, Sanofi-Aventis? says:

    Chris Viehbacher = Tool Extraordinaire
    “The reality is the best people who have great ideas in science don’t want to work for a big company.”
    So…I guess the only people who want to work for a big company are those who’ll steal your IP and try to sell it to some Third-World startup?

  65. Clueless says:

    Just admit the hard truth: you might be smart just not super innovative. You sit in your office thinking all day and everyday, but just not those great ideas.
    The innovator should get the power, the funding and the resource, that’s how biotech sets up.
    But at large pharma, the innovator gets a basket of all kinds of B***s, political or evil, you name it, and badmouthed for lacking of people skills.

  66. Jackrabbit says:

    Sadly @58:Kugelrohr, @53:Ed’s comments are actually pretty accurate. You should count yourself as extremely lucky. I am on my third small biotech. The first two ran out of funding and folded. My current one is sinking fast. I have a ton of vested stock options that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Upper management blew through a ton of cash flying everywhere first class, holding scientific advisory board meetings at posh hotels, neopotism, corporate apartments, fancy Christmas parties, hooking their buddies up with Board of Director seats, outsourcing work to their buddies, etc. etc.

  67. Another Derek says:

    Viehbacher’s Board of Directors should take him out onto one of those nicely mown lawns back of the tree-lined buildings and blow his non-existent brains out, preferably in full view of the scientists he so despises. First, because whatever he thinks of Sanofi’s staff, he’s brainless to say it. Second, because if he’s right about them, it’s his fault – he’s the CEO. And third, because think of what it would do for morale in the scientific ranks.

  68. monoceros4 says:

    “The anti-academia vitriol in this blog is nearing comical proportions.”
    I’m inclined to agree. I guess chemists are supposed to spring forth fully formed like Athene from the brow of Zeus, because obviously the academic environment produces nothing but layabouts and scoundrels. Tell me how else to go about becoming a chemist and I’ll gladly send in the requisite number of greenstamps or sacrifice lambs to Cthulhu or whatever the hell I’m supposed to be doing instead of spending hours at a corrupt and useless state university.

  69. Kaleberg says:

    It sounds like a real opportunity for someone who can talk the talk. You round up an academic or two with some good ideas who wouldn’t mind a shot at some big bucks and do a serious con. Companies restructuring this way are natural suckers. They intentionally know nothing about the field, and they are hungry for the big score. They want to believe. If you flatter their business methods they’ll fall for any scam you throw at them.
    The only downside is that when these guys have been taken enough times and sense they might have to downgrade the gold taps in the executive wash room to silver, they’ll go squealing to the taxpayer for more subsidies and wave the flag saying America, the UK or where ever the hell they’re based needs a strong pharmaceutical industry. Then they’ll whine about greedy welfare bums.
    That’s how business works nowadays. It isn’t pretty.

  70. smurf says:

    This is classical Harvard Business School stuff, implemented by The Company. In the good old days, engineers and scientists came up with managerial ideas that changed the world for better. I have not seen anything equivalent in the life sciences – where is our Dr Deming? Why do computer programmers revolutionise project management, while chemist and biologists just moan and whinge?

  71. Ed says:

    Kugelrohr – are you sure these are “options” that you have? Have you exercised those options? Do you actually own a share of the company? Could you sell them tomorrow?
    Usually you won’t until some transformational event (IPO or buyout). Which for a large number of people, will never happen.

  72. Boss Hogg says:

    Go for it, dimwit! He is the less talented, unchosen, bitter and unacknowledged corporate sibling of Sir Witty…has no real vision so he copies the playbook of his big brother and puts his own spin on it. Sanofi is the pharma equivalent of Kodak.

  73. Boss Hogg says:

    Go for it, dimwit! He is the less talented, unchosen, bitter and unacknowledged corporate sibling of Sir Witty…Vierbach has the buisness vision of Eastment-Kodak and he knows it, so he copies the playbook of his big brother Andy and puts his own spin on it.

  74. anonymous says:

    “The reality over the last 10 years is, (a small biotech) wouldn’t get caught dead working with one of these big cumbersome pharma companies.”…
    Of course they wouldn’t, because they’re all overflowing with philanthropic, not-for-profit idealists who do science for the love of it, you know, like their VC backers!

  75. newnickname says:

    @66 Jackrabbit: Some things never change! “Due diligence: determining who can order the best bottle of wine at a 5-star restaurant.” “Expert consultants: highly paid consultants who self proclaim themselves to be ‘experts’.” “Fungible commodity: staff scientist.” Etc..

  76. joezpussycat says:

    The Wharton/Harvard Biz school alumni association has succeded in propagating the single largest case of Stockholm Syndrome since the Tea Party movement in 2008.
    Now Pharma mgmt shows that same “Pharma R&D output vs. Investment” graph over and over in order to cement the idea that (preclinical) R&D is a useless money sink, and that the only way for the rest of the remaining numbnuts to keep their kids in new shoes is to accept a lifetime of midnight teleconferences with barely intelligible CRO reps.
    Brilliant really, in a Mein Kampf sort of way.

  77. joezpussycat says:

    The Wharton/Harvard Biz school alumni association has succeded in propagating the single largest case of Stockholm Syndrome since the Tea Party movement in 2008.
    Now Pharma mgmt shows that same “Pharma R&D output vs. Investment” graph over and over in order to cement the idea that (preclinical) R&D is a useless money sink, and that the only way for the rest of the remaining numbnuts to keep their kids in new shoes is to accept a lifetime of midnight teleconferences with barely intelligible CRO reps.
    Brilliant really, in a Mein Kampf sort of way.

  78. XPharma says:

    Combi Chem – lol

  79. Jay says:

    As an industry biochemist, it seems to me that the large companies are very risk averse. The management bureaucracy is designed to iron out non-conformity, and pushing a disruptive idea is most likely to get you marginalized. Look at who are starting these “wonderful” biotech startups…scientists and engineers, not accountants, attorneys and MBA’s. Yet these same scientists and engineers would likely not be appreciated in Viehbacher’s company, but would be locked-up in tree-lined cages. With an idiot like Viehbacher at the helm, I trust Sanofi will poison whatever start-ups it gets too close to. If Sanofi really desired innovation, they would be better off scrubbing away the top 4 layers of management to let the light shine through.

  80. RD says:

    Smurf: The reason project management works well in computer fields and not in a drug discovery project is because in the programming environment the steps involved in the project are established. All you need are competent people doing their bit.
    In the drug discovery side, every new project is a trip into the Twilight Zone where surprises and weirdness waits around every corner. There is no way to predict this.
    What the computer industry is working with is global truths. That world works on clearly established principles and division of labor.
    All of that goes out the window when we’re dealing with a biological pathway on a very local level. We are discovering the rules of engagement as we go. So, the project needs to be both flexible and yet adhere to somewhat inflexible timelines. It can go off on tangents on a sub problem that absolutely must be solved before the rest of the project goes forward. And the parts of the project sometimes can’t do anything else until the tangent phase is complete. At that point they may have to re-evaluate the target or the therapeutic area or the series they’re working on. In other words, there is no linearity to a drug discovery project.
    That being said, I have worked with great project team leaders and not so great project team leaders. And you get more stuff done with a great project team leader. But in the end, the success of the project is going to depend in large measure on the biology of the system. Even the greatest project team leader in the world can’t speed up the understanding phase.
    Sooo, in my humble opinion, comparison to the computer industry, or any other innovative industry, is not helpful. We are just working in a different universe.

  81. kissthechemist says:

    Any chance of a separate post exclusively for Sanofi scientists to let the rest of us know how they feel about all this ? Its difficult to see the wood for the trees with 80 comments already…and I guess this one’s gonna run and run (but I doubt it will cost that asshole his job, worse luck).

  82. RD says:

    Kissthechemist: I know sanofi scientists personally. Or should I say, “ex-sanofi” scientists. Viehbacher’s little ditty comes as no surprise. The attitude was present among the executives before Viehbacher was hired and gave *his* inaugural town hall meeting on the same day that Obama had his inaugural in Washington. (Viehbacher cut away for the swearing in. True story)
    I think the business end of Sanofi hired the guy who already understood their attitude towards “the help”, which was condescension and disdain.
    As I understand it, some of the best and brightest that Sanofi hired to run their high profile programs left. It wasn’t that they didn’t have good scientists working for them. It’s that the company made decisions about restructuring that left the best and the brightest thinking that they weren’t really free to make their own decisions about research.
    But people of Viehbacher’s rank are rarely held accountable for their mistakes and without accountability, you get people who do not understand their own contributions to failure. No one has smacked their noses with a rolled up newspaper and said, “Bad CEO! No biscuit for you!” Instead, they hobnob with people like themselves and lament that they just can’t get good help these days.

  83. Billybob says:

    I think this says it all:
    Biogen Idec to acquire Stromedix
    Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ:BIIB) will acquire Stromedix Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) for $75 million up front and up to $487.5 million in milestones. Stromedix is developing STX-100, a humanized mAb against integrin alpha(V)beta(6), to treat fibrotic disease. The product is in a Phase II trial to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).
    Stromedix was co-founded in 2006 by Michael Gilman, who was formerly EVP of research at Biogen Idec. Stromedix in-licensed STX-100 from Biogen Idec after the biotech shelved the compound

  84. RD2 says:

    Another perspective: anyone can come up with innovative ideas. The trick is to work out which ones are any good. For every one startup with a good idea, I’ll bet there are ten with duff ones. Viehbacher thinks he (and his VCs) know which is which. I doubt that.
    I imagine that bad ideas coming from senior management are pushed hard in most institutions regardless of their size, with the exception of a few lucky places?
    Bad ideas coming from the ground up are more likely to be weeded out in a big company than in a small environment: big companies have more data to invalidate bad ideas and more people with the expertise to critique them.
    I also imagine that the sorts of people Viehbacher admires are quite, uh, “outspoken individuals” with such self-regard that they wouldn’t fit in an environment where they’re expected to respect large numbers of colleagues.
    Anyway, I feel sorry for everyone at Sanofi.

  85. Jack Cox says:

    Anyone who has followed Chris in recent months will have heard some variation of these comments, but within the broader context that unfortunately didn’t make it into the Q&A you reference.
    Chris has consistently said that his vision for Sanofi’s R&D organization is one of open collaboration, in which our own researchers increasingly partner with external teams. This is consistent with a comment you’ve included: “We’re not going to get out of research. We believe we do things will in research but we want to work with more outside companies, startup biotechs, with universities.”
    In an interview with Luke Timmerman published by Xconomy in January Chris explained how this is working in practice:
    “In Cambridge, you’ve got all those things. Being the No. 1 life sciences employer in Boston is great, but we didn’t want to just do the same thing we did everywhere else, having everybody inside our walls. So we created this concept of a hub. There’s a core, with a lot of competencies that a big organization can bring, but the idea of a hub is that we can manage the relationships we have with everybody from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to Harvard to MIT to the Joslin Diabetes Center to some of the biotechs we work with. And we put our own oncology research team in Cambridge. There’s a whole ecosystem in Boston, and we feel integrated and at the center of it.”
    Seeking external expertise, particularly when it concerns emerging technologies, contributes to the creativity and innovation we have within. The key to our approach, however, is that we don’t want to simply be investors, but true partners. Again, consider the broader context as shared with Luke:
    “The Warp Drive Bio project is interesting because it demonstrates where we want to go. … It was very much on the basis of saying we want to work with (Harvard University chemical biologist) Greg Verdine. Someone like that isn’t going to come work for Big Pharma, but we liked the science he was doing. We have a strong interest and expertise in natural products, and he had a genomics screening tool.
    “We will contribute expertise. I don’t want to be a venture capitalist, or have a venture fund, like some other companies do. But I want to actually partner, where we bring some of what we know, and combine it with what Warp Drive has. The fact that we are trying to bring people from Sanofi into the collaboration, at such an early stage of research, is unusual. The single factor for success will be whether you can take a company like Warp Drive, with a handful of people, and make it work with an organization of 110,000 people without smothering it.”
    I believe your readers will agree that in this case the context really matters. Relying on one incomplete source doesn’t do justice to the overall approach Chris has been describing.
    If you want to truly understand the vision Chris has for Sanofi’s research organization, I invite you to catch one of his public speaking engagements in the Boston area.
    Kind Regards,
    Jack Cox
    Sanofi US

  86. Anonymous says:

    I’d rather chew glass………..

  87. anana-mouse says:

    Dear Mr. Cox
    You are a deluded shill.
    The temerity of just responding to this blog is sufficient justifuckation of Derek’s allution to “tu toque” polemics of senior management
    Go sit on a fag pole an rotate.

  88. @79 “Big companies are risk averse”
    They are indeed. I have a good friend who works for a big biotech on the commercial side (the MBAs who make the call if an R&D project is worth continued funding). Great guy who used to be a scientist and can appreciate the nuances in making such a call.
    His comment to me? “In this job, you could say ‘no’ to every project that you see and you’d never get fired. Say ‘yes’ to the wrong one and your ass is out the door.”
    Right there is the problem…

  89. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested says:

    @82 You’ve hit it right on the head. The art of management is narcissism, self-aggrandizement, and blaming subordinates for your own failures. It’s a good career path and requires only two post-graduate years at an Ivy League business school. The Ivy League credentials help reinforce the narcissism which is necessary for the self-aggrandizement and blaming of others. Plus, it helps your sense of entitlement as well.
    I highly recommend this career track if you have the requisite people skills. Because it’s easy to switch industries if the one you work in collapses in your home country. Sell medicines one year and over-priced houses the next. You have to be nimble because now one knows which industry in the West will implode. After a Kodak moment, you can still find a job in management. Try doing that as a photochemist!

  90. Huh? says:

    It is people like yourself that were the literary impetus for C.S.Lewis’s oily, salubrious demon in the Srewtape Letters. You have exceeded the role marvelously.

  91. Patrick says:

    Dear Friends,
    My perception is different from yours: I understand your reactions, because I can understand Viehbacher’ opinion.
    I am French, so I can bring you some lighting on Sanofi.
    First of all, this company is a financial plan stemming from oil (Total) and from the beauty care (L’Oréal); in other words, it has no genes of a discoverer of medicines. Its official culture is to be the assembly of multiple laboratories. Thanks to this, the largest part of the independent French laboratories disappeared from the landscape. Its outfit of medicines comes from these repurchases, and not from its internal R&D, the top-of-the-art of which is to have invented Doliprane (100 % Paracetamol).
    Secondly, Sanofi it is, regrettably for them, also Aventis. The site of Bridgewater is an Aventis’ one, it the reason it is so successful and efficient. And it is totally true that following the merger Sanofi-Aventis, the main brains of Aventis were violently fired out, those who were not ran away so much there was of blood on walls. Viehbacher knows well the French pharmaceutical industry. For a long time he chaired GSK France, I used to work with him at this time. So much to say to you that during this period, before the merger, Aventis was a formidable competitor, whereas we were afraid of nothing of Sanofi, in particular on the hospital markets. And I think that Viehbacher feeds no more illusion on capacities (or rather incapacities) of the Sanofi R&D. I send back to you to the series of setbacks or rejections of the last launched on the market products: Acomplia, Allegra, and do not forget Lovenox’ collapse.
    If he wants that his company survives, he has to forget his band of cock suckers and to lean on the external knowledge.
    So I shall say that the real subject of this article is not “What Sanofi Thinks About its employees” but “What Viehbacher thinks about Sanofi “.
    It remains that Viehbacher is not and was never a good communicator.

  92. Hap says:

    1) Didn’t those “tree-lined campuses” generate lots of disruptive thinking and products? Isn’t disruptive thinking precisely what is negated when there is no job security and lots of layoffs and thus when being disruptive is most likely to get you designated for firing?
    2) If large companies insert themselves into small drug companies at an early stage, and you think that small drug companies are likely better suited to innovation, won’t the interaction change the small company and make it less likely to innovate?
    3) If you can’t validate internal drug candidates (with at least complete data and a measure of honesty by their creators about their chances of success), how are you going to validate potential candidates from outside the company effectively when much of that information (which is not likely dross) is missing?
    It’s nice of you to respond, but the basic framework of the business strategy seems problematic, and when combined with the layoffs seems to say precisely what Dr. Lowe (and lots of other people) have imputed to it – that your employees aren’t capable of doing what you have paid them to do, but someone else (with a little management) can. I don’t know how that is either logical (because management or the arrangement of people could be wrong) or not insulting.

  93. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested says:

    I’m an ex-post-doc, not a manager with an Ivy League degree.
    The name that I use is ironic since I *wish* I had been that way before I entered graduate school and got screwed for more than five years.
    It comes from John Kay, who writes for the Financial Times, in his description of the financial industry. It is in the foreword of his book, “The Long and the Short of it.”

  94. I left Sanofi a few downsizings ago says:

    This is what you get when the people in charge lack people skills and on top of that lack long term vision, but have degrees in bean counting, know people, BS their way around, and have nice suits.
    I was saddened the day all those years ago when they (the leaders at what was HMR then) offered us more money to leave the company rather than to move to Bridgewater, “in the the heart of the pharmaceutical corridor”
    I loved working with the scientists there, but thank God I got out in time. My condolences to those who didn’t get out before the company rotted from the top.

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