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The outsiders

Zerhouni: New perspectives, outsiders are needed to transform the industry

As he retires from Sanofi, Elias Zerhouni has advice for the biopharma industry: the traditional executive mold must be expanded.

On April 24, Sanofi announced Zerhouni would retire on June 30 and that John Reed, former global head of Roche Pharma Research & Early Development (pRED), would succeed him as global head of R&D.

Zerhouni was an outsider when he joined Sanofi in January 2011. He had served as scientific advisor to then-CEO Christopher Viehbacher since 2009, but he hadn’t worked his way through the ranks at Sanofi or any other biopharma organization. Instead, he had spent much of his career in translational research in academia and government.

He was director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) during 2002-08, where he drove the organization’s shift to translational research from basic discoveries with NIH’s Roadmap for Medical Research project, and oversaw the development of multiple public-private partnerships, including the Biomarkers Consortium.

Prior to that, he served as chair of the department of radiology and radiological services, vice dean for research and executive vice dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

At Sanofi, Zerhouni modernized the traditionally inward-facing and small molecule-centric organization, bringing it into step with new thinking that had already begun to reshape other big pharmas’ way of doing business.

“As a factor of change, you need to bring people with different perspectives into companies at regular intervals.”

Elias Zerhouni, Sanofi

Zerhouni started to

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