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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Ousted Sanofi CEO Find Redemption in Boston

Written by: | | Dated: Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Ousted Sanofi (SNY) chief Christopher Viehbacher has found a warm welcome in his new adopted hometown of Boston, he said in a recent interview, where he will oversee Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli’s U.S. based Gurnet Point Capital fund, an announcement that came this week.

Viehbacher told Bloomberg News this week that Bertarelli contacted him “within a day or two” of his departure from Sanofi to take the job, but that he will only start work at the fund’s Cambridge, Mass.-based offices July 1.

“What I was looking for was to be able to put capital to work that could help companies be built over time,” Viehbacher told the news service. “The fact that Ernesto himself has had a very successful career in health care makes it a whole lot more attractive as well — there’s an awful lot of risk around.”

Viehbacher also said that he had considered retiring after he was unceremoniously booted from the French drugmaker last fall.

“I decided not to retire, but I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial,” he said. “In today’s world there is money everywhere, and what we are looking to do is create what we call differentiated capital.”

“You don’t have to have a time horizon of 5 to 7 years — maybe it’s longer, maybe it’s shorter, but you can tailor how you invest with a lot more freedom because you only have one investor.”

He told Bloomberg this new finance job will allow him to be “a player, not a spectator.”

“When you grow up in a big corporation you live in a very structured environment,” he said. “You’re surrounded by people who will make sure you don’t take on too much risk. You have to be somewhat humble about saying: I’m going to do something different.”

Still, Viehbacher remained philosophical about his time at Sanofi, saying this new gig will help him “keep things small, with a small team, and to be involved more personally.”

“Sometimes when you’re CEO,” he said, “you are not sure whether you are running the company or the company’s running you.”

Viehbacher has been keeping busy on other fronts as well. His other new company, PureTech Health, got a rousing reception during its public debut last Friday, raking $171 million during its first day on the London Stock Exchange.

The Boston-based company, which is owned by a British organization, said that it will immediately roll those proceeds into advancing the business.

“The $171 million proceeds of the fund-raising will help PureTech bring our most advanced product candidates towards commercialization and launch,” said Daphne Zohar, chief executive, in a statement.

In March PureTech said it had decided to take a run at the public markets, saying it had hoped to raise $160 million to list on the London Stock Exchange as soon as June. It met and exceeded that benchmark in a rare instance of British firm listing in lower-valuation territory of the LSE before attempting an American crossover.

In February, PureTech said Viehbacher had joined its board of directors and serves in an advisory capacity to the firm’s 12 pipeline companies. PureTech has already raked in $250 million in past private fundraisings.

PureTech has made no mention of Viehbacher’s infamous exit from the French Fortune 500 drugmaker in October, when he was unceremoniously fired after continued tensions with the company’s executive management.

“It’s has been a pleasure to know Chris for many years and I am very excited that we will be working together more closely now,” said Robert Langer, PureTech co-founder and senior Partner. “The PureTech Board is delighted to have him join us and to have access to his insights as our pipeline advances toward commercialization.”

PureTech has a varied portfolio of companies focused on identifying, inventing and commercializing new products and technologies in the healthcare sector. Its roster includes Vedanta Biosciences , Gelesis, Entrega, Folica, Karuna, Tal Medical and Akili Interactive Labs. Now is the perfect time to capitalize on the roaring bull market for biotech, said company execs Monday.

“With the acceleration of scientific discovery and the convergence of new and disruptive technologies being applied to life sciences, we believe the healthcare industry is on the cusp of a major transformation,” said CEO Daphne Zohar.

PureTech’s board has a number of marquee-name advisors, including a former CEO of Pearson, Marjorie Scardino and former Pfizer Inc. (PFE) research czar John LaMattina, but Viehbacher remains its most compelling participant thus far. Sanofi’s board of directors fired Viehbacher on Oct. 29 because of “strategic differences,” including Viehbacher’s plan to sell the company’s portfolio of mature drugs worth about $7.9 billion.

Although Viehbacher was popular with shareholders because he managed to double the firm’s stock price during his tenure, management had long been at odds with him, particularly because he was the first non-French Sanofi chief executive. When he moved his family to Boston last year, spending only about a third of his time in France, the board acted to remove him.

Still, after a months-long uphill battle to name a successor, Sanofi is once again receiving intense criticism from lawmakers this week, after the details of its compensation package for new Chief Executive Officer Olivier Brandicourt were branded excessive and “incomprehensible.”


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