Biogen hires former Sanofi head Viehbacher as CEO

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By Manas Mishra

(Reuters) -Biogen Inc on Thursday tapped former Sanofi boss Christopher Viehbacher as its new chief executive, betting on an industry veteran to help the U.S. drugmaker put behind it a series of setbacks for Alzheimer's drug Aduhelm.

The appointment of Viehbacher, who founded private equity firm Gurnet Point Capital after being ousted from French drugmaker Sanofi in 2014, concludes a months-long search for a successor to Michel Vounatsos.

"The selection of a new CEO has been front-of-mind for Biogen investors since Mr. Vounatsos' announced departure," said Wedbush analyst Laura Chico.

The rocky launch of the highly-anticipated Aduhelm last year piled more pressure on Biogen struggling with intense competition for its top-selling multiple sclerosis drugs.

Vounatsos, who became the CEO in 2017, announced his departure in May after the U.S. government's Medicare program restricted coverage of Aduhelm to patients in clinical trials, severely limiting its use.

Investors and analysts are now pinning their hopes on the second Alzheimer's drug Biogen is developing with Japan's Eisai Co Ltd after it slowed the progress of the memory-robbing disease by 27% in a trial.

Viehbacher served as chief executive of Sanofi for six years and was instrumental in the company's $20 billion deal for Genzyme in 2011. His resume includes a 20-year stint at Britain's GSK.

However, Stifel analysts were skeptical.

"On the one hand, he has extensive industry experience, including running Sanofi for six years. On the other, he has spent the better part of the last decade as an investor," said Stifel's Paul Matteis.

Viehbacher will step into his role on Nov. 14, Biogen said.

The company's shares rose 2.4% to $289.01 in premarket trading.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)


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