UPDATE 3-Sanofi replaces R&D boss to fill drugs pipeline

* Zerhouni to take over Jan. 1, to head drugs, vaccines

* Cluzel to stay on as scientific adviser to Zerhouni

(Recasts)

Caroline Jacobs

PARIS, Dec 14 (BestGrowthStock) – French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis
(SASY.PA: ) replaced its head of research and development with a
leading academic and former top U.S. health official on Tuesday
to raise its game in medical innovations.

The company said Elias Zerhouni would lead R&D of drugs and
bring R&D for vaccines under his control too as Sanofi reshapes
its portfolio and looks to vaccines as one area for growth to
offset sales losses from mounting generic competition.

The appointment of Zerhouni, a professor of radiology and
biomedical engineering, comes as Sanofi battles to buy U.S. rare
disease specialist Genzyme (GENZ.O: ). [ID:nLDE6B10OK]

Chief executive Chris Viehbacher brought in Zerhouni in
February 2009 as his scientific adviser, shortly after taking
charge of the group which he has been transforming to include
the development of drugs based on biotechnology.

Zerhouni, an academic whom Viehbacher called a “world
renowned figure”, will take over from Marc Cluzel as of Jan. 1
next year, Sanofi said on Tuesday.

Cluzel, who became head of pharma R&D early in 2007 under
the previous chief executive, will stay as a scientific expert
to work with Zerhouni.

Cluzel has already made progress transforming a pipeline
that was in crisis after the flop of anti-obesity drug Acomplia
and a lack of innovative drugs to offset looming generic
competition of key drugs such as blood thinner Plavix, the
world’s second best selling drug after Pfizer’s (PFE.N: ) Lipitor.
“This newly created position, will bring R&D of medicines
and vaccines under one umbrella to maximise opportunities of
sharing experience and expertise,” a Sanofi spokesman said.

“Cluzel’s resignation and Zerhouni’s new role are part of
the further development of the company,” he said.

Analysts approved of the new appointment.

“Sanofi has been facing a weak pipeline and the appointment
of somebody externally to aggressively refresh the pipeline is
probably a good move,” said Michael Leacock, analyst at Royal
Bank of Scotland.

Sanofi said in a statement that Zerhouni has been
“instrumental in redesigning the R&D model to foster increased
innovation, the first pillar of the group’s strategy”.

Zerhouni, born in 1951 in Algeria, is professor of radiology
and biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University and
Hospital in the United States. He received the prestigious
Legion of Honor medal from the French National Order in 2008.

He used to be the director of the National Institutes of
Health, the medical research agency of the United States and
part of the U.S. department of Health and Human Services.

Sanofi is trying to buy U.S. biotech Genzyme (GENZ.O: ) in a
$18.5 billion tender offer that it prolonged on Monday.
[ID:nLDE69R0ZX]

Buying Genzyme, which has turned down Sanofi’s offer, would
give Sanofi a new and high-margin growth area of rare diseases
as mounting generic competition will take out roughly a third of
Sanofi’s 2008 sales base by 2013.

Sanofi shares were up 0.7 percent at 49.34 euros at 1230
GMT.

(Reporting by Caroline Jacobs; Editing by David Holmes and
Andrew Callus)

UPDATE 3-Sanofi replaces R&D boss to fill drugs pipeline