As reported in Fierce Biotech and the WSJ today, former NIH Head and current Sanofi head of R&D Elias Zerhouni admits that fixing problems with translatinal research in Big pharma is "more difficult than I thought".
In fact, with about 2+ years on the job, he has decided that adopting a "biotech-like" approach by itself will not work. He says there must be a complete R&D "re-do" on development. The re-do in his terms calls for more open innovation models whereby Sanofi collaborates much more with external groups in universites and hospitals among others.
He says Sanofi will now first focus understanding a disease and then will figure out what tools might be needed to treat the disease - a reversal of the former practice of finding a tool and then trying to figure out to what disease it might be applied. To further help, Sanofi cut its number of programs in half, down to 60, to provide more focus and understanding in that more limited population. It's now striving to get more real-world exposure to treating patients with these diseases with its network of outside collaborators.
I think it will be interesting to see how Sanofi might interact with the NIH now that the latter has announced plans for a Translational Medicine Center and Zerhouni's past ties to the institution. No doubt -- given his past passion for translational medicine -- it's no coincidence that the NIH adopted an initiative in this area.
Posted by Bruce Lehr May 23rd 2011.