Gerard Le Fur
For nearly two decades, Gérard Le Fur has happily played second fiddle to Jean-François Dehecq. The charismatic Dehecq, chief of French drug company Sanofi Synthélabo, engineered the 2004 takeover of Aventis to create the global No. 3 pharmaceutical group. But nowadays it's Le Fur, 54, Sanofi-Aventis' soft-spoken research chief, who draws standing-room-only crowds at industry conferences.
The reason is Acomplia, a new drug that takes aim at two intractable health problems: obesity and smoking. Developed by Le Fur's team over 15 years and set for submission to U.S. and European regulators later this year, Acomplia has been shown in trials to curb the urge to eat and smoke, while shrinking abdominal fat and lowering cholesterol. If approved, analysts say the drug's sales could top $5 billion annually in five years, making Acomplia a blockbuster.
Acomplia is only the latest of Le Fur's accomplishments as a manager of innovation. He oversaw the 1998 launch of Plavix, a blood thinner that is now among the five top-selling drugs worldwide. On his watch, Sanofi-Aventis (SNY ) has developed a rich pipeline of late-stage drugs awaiting regulatory review, including medications to fight Parkinson's disease, depression, and insomnia.
Le Fur plays down his role. "It's not me who makes the decisions," he says. "We're a team." True, but industry watchers say Le Fur has built a strong and loyal group of researchers, no small feat when companies compete fiercely for talent. He also enjoys the unwavering support of Dehecq, who hired him in 1986 as Sanofi's assistant research chief and promoted him in 1995 to the top R&D job. A specialist in central-nervous-system disorders, Le Fur worked at former French group Rhône-Poulenc before joining Sanofi.
The Aventis deal tripled Le Fur's research budget, to almost $5.5 billion. With that kind of money, this scientist looks set to keep cranking out winners for years to come.
By Carol Matlack