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Sanofi appoints a venture investor to R&D head as executive team expands

Dive Brief:

  • Sanofi has found a new head of research and development in Houman Ashrafian, who currently serves as a scientific advisor at SV Health Investors. His start date is Sept. 11.


  • The appointment fills a spot vacated by John Reed, who left Sanofi early this year for a similar position at Johnson & Johnson. Ashrafian is a cardiologist by training and, according to SV Health, co-founder of seven of the firm’s still-active companies. He also sits on the boards of five of those companies, as well as four others.


  • Ashrafian’s hiring came alongside an announcement of a larger expansion to Sanofi’s executive team. The French pharmaceutical giant said it added a head of business operations and a chief digital officer, and now has an interim head for its specialty care business unit, as the former head, Bill Sibold, plans to leave to “pursue an external opportunity.”


Dive Insight:

Sanofi’s R&D activities changed significantly during the five years Reed oversaw them. Formerly best known for its work in heart and diabetes research, the company has more recently been prioritizing areas like cancer, the immune system and rare diseases.

Ashrafian will soon be in charge of Sanofi’s busy pipeline. In February, the company said it was expecting results from 27 early- to mid-stage clinical trials sometime over the following 15 months.

Ashrafian “brings a wealth of expertise as a scientist and in bringing high value transformational medicines from discovery to market,” said Paul Hudson, Sanofi’s CEO, in a statement.

“With Houman’s leadership and deep understanding of science, we aspire to make our R&D transformation sustainable,” Hudson added.

Before joining SV Health in 2016, Ashrafian co-founded a U.K.-based drug development firm, Heart Metabolics. According to SV Health, that company “successfully repositioned” a drug called perhexiline, which has been tested as a potential treatment for several heart conditions, including cardiomyopathy and chronic heart failure.

Ashrafian also previously served as head of the clinical science group at UCB Pharma.

Joining him on Sanofi’s board will be Madeleine Roach, Sanofi’s newly appointed head of business operations. Roach left AstraZeneca for Sanofi last year, coming on as head of internal audit and risk management. Her new role is effective Oct. 1.

Sanofi’s freshly minted chief digital officer, Emmanuel Frenehard, is also an internal hire. Frenehard has been at the company for three years, holding various leadership roles related to digital activities. In his new appointment, which is effective immediately, he will be responsible for advancing Sanofi’s “digital transformation” as well as its data and technology strategy.

Sanofi said Dietmar Berger, who’s been leading the company’s R&D team on an interim basis since Reed’s departure, will continue to serve in his roles as chief medical officer and global head of development.