John Reed soars to the top of the ladder at J&J

John Reed, M.D., Ph.D., Head of Global R&D at Sanofi, has moved to Johnson & Johnson, where he serves as Vice President of Pharmaceutical R&D.

Reed will start his new position at J&J on April 3, taking over from EVP, external innovation, and medical safety manager William Haiti, MD, Ph.D., who has served as interim director of R&D since last August.

Sanofi announced Reed’s departure on the morning of February 13 in a statement that did not mention his new role at rival Big Pharma, saying only that he was leaving “to pursue a new opportunity.”

Reed, who served in Sanofi’s senior R&D role for nearly five years, “laid the foundation for the transformation of the R&D company” and helped shape its discovery and development, “focusing efforts on first-in-class and best-in-class drugs,” according to a Sanofi press release.
A French drugmaker has an interim CEO as it tries to find a full-time replacement amid management departures.

Reed joined Sanofi in 2018 in a more seamless transition, arriving two months before the retirement of his predecessor, Elias Zerhoun, MD. This time, Sanofi will lose its RandD head to a successor. Dietmar Berger, M.D., Ph.D., who joined Sanofi in 2019 as chief medical officer and director of global development, will assume Reed’s duties on an interim basis while an internal and external search finds a replacement. 

Big Pharma’s R&D executives usually leave while their legacies are still in flux because the length of drug development timelines means the impact of their actions won’t be seen until years later. This is mostly true of Reed, but a few things are already clear. Sanofi has largely missed the COVID-19 gold rush.

The company lagged behind the mRNA pioneers by focusing on an established recombinant protein platform and underestimating how quickly its competitors could move, predicting in early 2020 that it would take three to four years to ship an approved vaccine. The French drugmaker later tried to jump-start the first year of the pandemic, including by entering mRNA, but then its competitors moved on.

However, the pandemic helped transform Sanofi’s R&D priorities. In 2021, Sanofi bought its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine partner Translate Bio for $3.2 billion, putting the emerging habit at the centre of its plans. Earlier that year, Sanofi made a $160 million acquisition focused on using mRNA to reprogram immune cells in the human body. Amunix, Origimm, and Kiadis also became part of Sanofi under Reed.

Profits, if any, from most businesses are realised years later. Sanofi’s $3.7 billion investment in Principia Biopharma, which came shortly after Reed’s appointment, could have near-term implications. Phase 3 trials of two of Principia’s candidates, tolebrutinib and rilzabrutinib, are planned for the next 15 months. The schedule also included 27 1./2. phase reads from candidates who moved into early clinical development of the Reed clock.

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