British pharma exec Paul Hudson joined the French pharma giant in 2019 and soon brought forward a new strategy aimed at focusing on first-in-class or best-in-class drugs and offloading the firm’s underperforming businesses. Since then and after weathering COVID-19 vaccine race defeat, Hudson has seen Sanofi through some significant wins and a few setbacks.
When Paul Hudson took over from former Sanofi boss, Olivier Brandicourt, in 2019 the company had just been through a series of challenges, including the plunge of its diabetes business and the disastrous launch of its dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia. These reversals resulted in a 2018 sales decline and 25 percent pay cut to the CEO’s salary. Enter Paul Hudson, a UK executive who brought his 28 years of experience at Schering-Plough, AstraZeneca and Novartis to the role and, not being a French national, perhaps provided the company with a more global perspective that could usher in a new era.
[Sanofi] has sort of lost a little bit of its mojo. It was playing a little bit not to lose, it was playing a little bit defensive. And I think playing to win is sort of an antidote to that
The Momentum of a New Strategy
Shortly after taking the helm, Hudson unveiled his new corporate strategy, “Play to win,” a five-year plan (2020-2025) to focus on specific growth drivers, prioritizing certain areas of the company’s portfolio while improving efficiency. “[Sanofi] has sort of lost a little bit of its mojo. It was playing a little bit not to lose, it was playing a little bit defensive. And I think playing to win is sort of an antidote to that,” Hudson said at the time.
In 2020 PharmaBoardroom spoke to Bill Sibold, then executive vice president of Sanofi Genzyme and now, executive vice president of specialty care about the “play to win” strategy. “This strategy comprises four pillars: grow, lead with innovation, accelerate efficiency, and reinvent how we work,” he stated. “With a renewed focus on growth, we implemented a portfolio prioritization journey, eliminating some programs, and ultimately identifying six priority assets for Sanofi. At the same time, we also want to accelerate efficiency.”
Reaching Blockbuster Status
An essential component of the new strategy was to turn Sanofi’s antibody drug Dupixent, jointly developed with Regeneron, into a blockbuster. Dupixent, originally approved in the US in 2017 for eczema, has subsequently been green lighted for three diseases across multiple age groups including atopic dermatitis, severe asthma, and as the first drug to treat eosinophilic esophagitis.
Over the last two years, quarterly sales have nearly tripled and in March, the company showed that peak annual sales of Dupixent would be more than EUR 13 billion, up from a previous target of more than 10 billion euros with revenues jumping by 43.4 percent to EUR 1.96 billion and beating an analyst consensus of EUR 1.86 billion.
In this year’s third quarter results, Sanofi said that Dupixent’s growth is due to its market dominance in atopic dermatitis, plus “continued uptake” in asthma and chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps. Hudson said of Dupixent’s multiple indications that “nobody competes with us across all of the diseases.”
Further indications could be on the way for Dupixent, having posted positive data in chronic spontaneous urticaria, prurigo nodularis and eosinophilic esophagitis.
Making Good of a Missed Opportunity
As the world’s largest vaccine maker, losing the race for a COVID-19 vaccine at the height of the pandemic was a missed opportunity for Sanofi, but the firm has finally become a contender seeing its VidPrevtyn Beta booster, created in partnership with GSK, become the first next-gen, protein-based adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine approved in Europe.
VidPrevtyn brings together a beta antigen with GSK’s pandemic adjuvant and is designed to provide protection against multiple variants of COVID-19. It can be used as an adjunct in adults who have already been vaccinated with mRNA or adenoviral COVID shots, making it an additional option in the anti-COVID arsenal.
In a company release, Thomas Triomphe, Sanofi’s executive vice presidents of vaccines said: “Today’s approval validates our research in developing a novel solution for the COVID-19 pandemic. As we’re ready to start first shipments, VidPrevtyn Beta will be an important new option to protect populations against multiple strains of COVID-19.”
Another large component of Hudson’s strategy was to focus on key performance areas by offloading a number of businesses and drugs that are not among the company’s big money makers and in so doing cut EUR 2.5 billion euros in annual costs.
A few examples are the recent sale of longtime partner Regeneron’s exclusive worldwide rights to cancer drug, Libtayo, for USD 900 million; the release of French rights to prolonged-release and divisible tablet formulations of lithium carbonate to Laboratoires Delbert; the sale of 16 consumer health products to Germany’s Stada Arzneimittel, and previously handing over 17 CNS products to Neuraxpharm including Nozinan, Tranxene, Tiapridal, Dogmatil and Largactil.
Moreover, Sanofi launched the spinoff of its European drug ingredients business, EUROAPI, with its portfolio of about 200 active pharmaceutical ingredients.
A New Look and Feel
Further capitalizing on these winds of change, Sanofi underwent a rebrand and launched a new corporate logo and website earlier this year. Replacing the old logo that featured green, pink and blue shapes next to the name, the look of the new logo is cleaner and more streamlined. “With our new brand, we have sought to provide our people, our partners, patients and healthcare professionals with a clear and strong understanding of who we are and what we are set to achieve,” said Josep Catllà, head of corporate affairs at Sanofi.
Beyond the corporate logo, Genzyme, the US biotech bought up by Sanofi more than a decade ago will now move under the Sanofi branding as well as the much older vaccines unit, Sanofi Pasteur.
Other Success Stories
Apart from Dupixent, Sanofi has racked up other recent wins, one of which was the European Medicines Agency’s approval of the Sanofi-AstraZeneca RSV antibody Beyfortus (nirsevimab) to prevent RSV lower respiratory tract disease in infants. The treatment is the first and only single-dose protective option for infants for the highly contagious seasonal virus. “Given its potential to prevent 80 percent of hospitalizations, we expect Beyfortus to become the best option in 2023 to achieve all infant protection against RSV,” said Hudson on the company’s third quarter earnings conference call.
There have been setbacks. The company’s promising multiple sclerosis candidate, tolebrutinib, having been put on hold by the FDA, is one example. And litigations over its heartburn medicine, Zantac, after it was linked to unacceptable levels of N-nitrosodimethylamine, a potential cancer-causing agent, have drawn a lot of negative press. In addition, the company has decided to stop development of its breast cancer drug, amcenestrant. In the wake of these reversals Sanofi saw a market cap drop of EUR 17 billion in the summer of 2022, yet in October it reported total sales growth of 9 percent throughout the previous quarter to EUR 12.5 billion.