More program cuts ahead as Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson continues to reshape the company
One quarter into the new year, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson remains steadfast on his mission to reshape the company — and that will mean some serious pipeline pruning, particularly in the general medicines unit.
In late 2019 and early 2020, Sanofi’s general medicines unit boasted more than 350 product families, according to Olivier Charmeil, EVP of general medicines. By the end of this year, the company aims to reduce that figure to about 125, either by divesting or discontinuing programs. And by 2025, the goal is to sit at right around 100 product families.
“I think the teamwork that’s going on between the business unit heads… is really important to give us the opportunity to redeploy resource either to the bottom line or into R&D, and I think we’re really getting into a good cadence on that,” Hudson said on the call.
That pruning will apparently start with four investigational HSV 2 vaccines for adults with recurrent genital herpes. Sanofi revealed in its Q1 news release that it’s discontinuing a Phase I study testing the four vaccines for safety and efficacy, without offering much more detail.
All that flexibility should leave Sanofi open for some interesting R&D moves, Hudson hinted, adding that he aims to transform the company’s oncology and neurology portfolios into “industry-leading pipelines.”
However, when it comes to M&A, he said his strategy remains the same. While making it clear that Sanofi is looking to add to its pipeline, he said the company will remain “disciplined.”
“It’s clear that some prices have fallen, but it’s always been for us about picking the right target and the right asset. It’s never been about size. It’s always been about the right thing, and that hasn’t changed for us. I think that just stays business as usual,” he said. “If we see the right thing, we’ll move, that’s been the same since the very beginning, at least since I’ve been here.”
Hudson was tapped to the helm in 2019 and has since been on a mission to revive Sanofi’s reputation as a leader in drug research. Nothing is off the table when it comes to restructuring the company, he said earlier this year, adding that the team has already come a long way.
The chief executive culled a handful of programs last year, he revealed in the Q4 report, including one evaluating Sarclisa in patients awaiting kidney treatment, and another for SAR445088, a complement C1s inhibitor, in immune thrombocytopenia (ITP).
Sarclisa had struggled on the uptake, as the drug was first approved about a week and a half before the WHO declared a global pandemic last year, limiting patient access. Now, it’s driving the pharma giant’s growth in oncology, raking in €65 million (over $68 million), up from just €34 million (under $36 million) in the same period last year.
The company also revealed in its Q4 results that it plans on shaving about 6,000 jobs in an effort to become more “agile.” Execs said at the time that they were aiming for a headcount of around 90,000 by the end of the year.
Looking ahead, Dupixent will be a big part of Sanofi’s growth, according to Bill Sibold, EVP of specialty care and president of Sanofi’s North America operations. The megablockbuster — which targets both IL-4 and IL-13 — earned €1.6 billion (nearly $1.7 billion) last quarter, up 45.7%.
“We are still only at the beginning of our journey with approximately 8% market penetration in adults,” Sibold said on the call.
Just in the last couple of months, the drug has snagged priority review in eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) for patients 12 and older, and moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis in kids between 6 months and 5 years old. Sanofi is also looking to expand the label into uncontrolled prurigo nodularis and chronic pruritus of unknown origin.
The company’s also predicting another record sales year for its flu products, despite an 18.2% decline in the first quarter, which vaccine head Thomas Triomphe said is “traditionally a low quarter for flu sales.”
Triomphe also noted that the company is “all in and full speed” on mRNA programs, after outlining plans last summer to spend €400 million ($437 million) a year on its mRNA effort. Last month, Hudson sketched out a $1 billion-plus investment for a new mRNA center in France. And last year, the company laid out some positive early results for an mRNA-based Covid vaccine candidate.
Sanofi was one of the pharma companies to get out early in the Covid-19 vaccine race using a more traditional approach, but that derailed when the company saw weak responses in older adults.
“While we may have been a little bit later to the party on mRNA, certainly we feel like we’ve caught right up and actually understand what it takes to go forward and differentiate it,” Hudson said. “I think we’re going to possibly surprise everybody, which is always a good thing.”