CAPTAIN ON THE BRIDGE – Every day, Challenges posts a meeting with a big boss in the storm. Today, Paul Hudson, the general manager of Sanofi.
For a baptism of fire, it’s a baptism of fire. Entering office eight months ago, this is Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, on the front line on the Sars-CoV-2 crisis. He is the manufacturer of paracetamol Doliprane, the only medication recommended to lower the fever of Covid-19 and Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), possible and very controversial treatment. Sanofi also arises in researcher for a vaccine, another treatment, and, why not a digital serological test, in partnership with a Californian start-up …
In recent weeks, Paul Hudson has also stepped up to the plate, in the media and with Thierry Breton, Commissioner in Brussels, so that Europe finally worries about its health sovereignty: regulations, relocations, etc. “We must build this European sovereignty, I am confident that things will change in the coming weeks”, professes this British (!), Native of Manchester. In February, the three-color laboratory announced the consolidation of its own active ingredient factories to form a European giant, far from Asia, destined to be listed on the stock exchange. Clever opportunity to optimize its industrial map. Since January, Sanofi and its captain have been on all fronts. What in the end – and far beyond “this pandemic that obviously we would all have liked never to know” – should not displease this 52-year-old managing director, a real big pharma driver (Schering-Plow, AstraZeneca , Novartis…). But completely new, as he admitted at the end of January in Davos, on the profession of vaccines. And even more perhaps on the subtleties of French capitalism.
Race against time
In a way, for Paul Hudson, history repeats itself. In 2011, while marketing at AstraZeneca in Spain, he was offered the job of president in Japan. The new boss landed in the archipelago just days after the tsunami and earthquakes that rocked the country, in front of troops, some of whom had lost all their possessions, and even members of their families. At first, it was necessary to take care of people, long before business. An experience which he still describes today as “very formative”. So is the Covid-19 pandemic – the industry’s time trial as a bonus.
“When I arrived at Sanofi, I had several challenges to overcome: defining a new strategy, a new corporate culture, federating … The crisis accelerated all of this, transforming these challenges into opportunities.” In this gray and chilly afternoon of April 30, Paul Hudson “receives” on Zoom in long-sleeved polo shirt, caulked in the loggia of his home, in the XVIth arrondissement, in Paris. Among the Hudson, the lockdown lives five, with his wife and three children. In recent days, the big boss has been asked to let his professional sphere spill over to the dining room. “From time to time, I receive a text: ‘Please do not make too much noise between 5 and 6 pm, I take an exam’, or ‘silence! I’m on the line with my teacher'”, laughs- he.
A vaccine from mid-2021
Hudson has not been in the office since March 17. He made only one short (authorized) visit to a French site in the same month, at the Amilly distribution center (Loiret). And spends 14 to 15 hours a day on Zoom. Sanitary rules oblige. The only physical face-to-face meeting on April 28 with Serge Weinberg in a large Paris auditorium, just before the general meeting organized by videoconference. The chairman of the board and the director general held masks on their faces for an hour, three feet away. “Personally but also as a manager, what I miss most is the spontaneity of the exchanges, meeting people in the elevator … nobody will connect to Zoom, just to see your reel or exchange a few seconds.”
But priority to the security of the troops in times of general mobilization. Faced with the pandemic, Sanofi is exploring all possible avenues. Good for the image and, if successful, for business. At the top of his checklist, the captain wrote a rule, very simple: “Be ready … everywhere. Join our forces and our efforts where we think we can provide a solution. As such, we take full advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit history of this house. “
In the vaccine, where Sanofi is a world leader, especially in the influenza virus, the laboratory hopes to be able to market a product by mid-2021. Launched in January, it has several irons in the fire: a candidate RNA vaccine project, state-of-the-art technique and easier to produce quickly, with the Translate Bio biotech; another, more conventional, recombinant vaccine project that builds on its past work on SARS with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda), an offshoot of the United States Department of Health. More an agreement with GSK to access its expertise in adjuvants, these products that boost the immune response and reduce the amount of protein needed in each dose of vaccine (and therefore produce more). Sanofi also hopes to capitalize on its most recent recombinant flu vaccine, Flublock, already marketed in the United States, which it wants to extend to Covid -19.
A changing world of work
Same approach – extend the indications of an existing drug – in the field of treatments. For Plaquenil, Sanofi has donated 100 million doses to fifty countries to help fight Covid-19. With the American Regeneron, he is testing the effectiveness of Kemzara, their drug for rheumatoid arthritis, in dealing with pulmonary inflammatory reactions in patients with Covid-19. At the end of April, the tandem announced, however, that its phase 3 trials for this project would now be restricted to “critically ill patients”, compared to those “previously suffering from severe forms” of Covid-19. Impossible to say for the moment if this restriction is the sign that the duo advances towards a result – or not.
Finally, the Frenchman is also working with the Californian start-up Luminostics on a smartphone self-test. “We are on all fronts. It’s more about seizing the opportunities that our teams bring us than diversifying the risks. Right now, I see the business at its best,” said Paul Hudson. No extended meetings to study business cases or some slideshare unending. “Since the start of the crisis, not once have I heard, ‘but how are we going to finance all this?’ People, motivated and mobilized, rather say “we will find a way”. If we are wrong, we will survive. If we succeed we will be really proud and happy. ”
An industry that is reviving its coat of arms
The next world, the boss of Sanofi is already thinking about it. As a manager, and as a man: “This crisis is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on what is essential and what is not. The nature of work is changing, some things will never come back, others will develop … you have to think about it now. ” Less travel, more telework, more equity for employees – “especially women” – who juggle their job, their house, their children … More telemedecine and digital too: internally, Sanofi took advantage of the lockdown to create and share a Mooc bringing together the extent of the group’s knowledge in this area (blockchain, etc.) What if, in this sensitive industry – and often unloved by the general public – the (extremely rare) general mobilization of big pharma was also an opportunity to restore its image? “If we behave elegantly and in a socially responsible manner, then yes, I think that for all it is an opportunity.”