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Sanofi’s Viehbacher Sees ‘a Few Signs’ of Recovery in Europe

Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Chris Viehbacher sees “a few signs” pointing to a recovery in Europe although it’s too soon to tell whether the region’s debt crisis may be approaching an end.

While it’s a “little early” to say the worst is over, “we’ve got a few signs” pointing to an improved situation in Europe, Viehbacher said in an interview in Paris yesterday, following a speech by French Finance Minister Francois Baroin.

“The fact that the cost of debt for some European countries has come down is clearly a positive sign,” Viehbacher said before leaving for Davos to attend the World Economic Forum. “The commitment of European countries to really reduce their deficits is also starting to have an impact, but as the director of the IMF has said, we are not out of the woods yet.”

Sanofi and other drugmakers are being hurt by austerity measures in Europe as governments rein in health-care spending seeking to lower deficits. Viehbacher, who has been reshaping the Paris-based company since taking the helm of France’s biggest drugmaker three years ago, has expanded in emerging markets and in areas such as consumer health, reducing its reliance on European sales.

The Davos forum will allow business leaders to “continue the dialogue” and discuss “not only about deficits and austerity programs” but also about how to “re-launch” economic growth, said Viehbacher, who plans to remain in the Swiss town until Jan. 28.

‘Important Start’

The 51-year-old CEO oversaw last year’s $20.1 billion acquisition of U.S. biotechnology company Genzyme Corp., the largest maker of medicines for rare genetic disorders, which gave Sanofi access to innovative drugs that are less vulnerable to generic competition.

Sanofi said this week that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new plant in Framingham, Massachusetts, that will help Genzyme eliminate shortages of its rare-disease medicines Fabrazyme and Cerezyme.

“This is an extremely important start,” Viehbacher said. “We always said the return to full supply of Fabrazyme and Cerezyme was tied to Framingham. It’s on track. We’re very satisfied to see that come through.”

Viehbacher said in a Jan. 11 interview in San Francisco he would continue looking for “bolt-on” acquisitions this year to grow further in areas such as animal health-care and emerging markets.

Sanofi isn’t interested in transactions such as Roche Holding AG’s $5.7 billion hostile bid for Illumina Inc. as a means to expand in diagnostics, Viehbacher said yesterday.

“We are very interested in diagnostics but I think you can get there through partnerships,” he said.

Elias Zerhouni, Sanofi’s head of research and development, also will attend the World Economic Forum.

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