People, R&D

Longtime Sanofi R&D chief Elias Zerhouni is on his way out, handing the research reins to Roche vet John Reed

After 7 years as head of Sanofi R&D, former NIH chief Elias Zerhouni is stepping down and handing the job to John Reed, who spent the last 5 years running Roche’s pRED research group based in Basel.

A spokesperson for Sanofi tells me that Reed, like Zerhouni, will have offices in Cambridge, MA and Paris.

John Reed

The change at the top of the Paris-based pharma giant’s research arm marks the latest in a series of switch-ups in the world’s biggest pharma R&D organizations, with Hal Barron taking over at GlaxoSmithKline, Dan Skovronsky stepping up at Eli Lilly and John Tsai taking charge of development at Novartis. 

During Zerhouni’s tenure Sanofi lined up a fruitful alliance with Regeneron that delivered some major new therapies, with another PD-1 checkpoint on the way. Sanofi also acquired Genzyme. And Zerhouni followed up with an important alliance with Alnylam and recent acquisition deals for Bioveratv and Ablynx. But Sanofi’s own R&D organization has been slow and ineffective in making much headway in drug development, though Zerhouni has insisted that has been changing as well.

Sanofi spent $6.7 billion on R&D last year, with a 6th place ranking among the world’s biggest drug research operations.

Reed, who was brought in from Sanford-Burnham for the job of finishing the overhaul at pRED, has had little to boast about during his tenure at Roche, where he recently exited. Roche has relied on Genentech — gRED — to produce the company’s new blockbusters.

Both Reed and Zerhouni are known as influential scientists with a keen understanding of translational research. But they’ve never made the leap to become known for mastering development on their own.

Reed is joining Sanofi April 30, two months before Zerhouni leaves Sanofi. 

“John is an accomplished and widely recognized physician-scientist with a brilliant academic track record,” said Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt in a statement. “He is experienced in driving R&D productivity, building high-performing teams and integrating biotech companies to provide new technology platforms.”


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