|Pharmas lack science expertise at the top|
By Andrew Jack in London
Published: April 5 2009 16:58 | Last updated: April 5 2009 16:58
Only one large western pharmaceutical company will be run by a scientist following completion of the current round of acquisitions, in spite of the growing need for strengthened innovation to develop new medicines.
Only John Lechleiter, appointed chief executive of Eli Lilly of the US a year ago, has an academic science background, although Daniel Vasella, the chief executive who has run Novartis of Switzerland for the past decade, trained as a doctor.
His increasing isolation follows the relegation of Arthur Levinson, the scientist behind Genentech of the US, who loses his role as head of the world’s most successful biotech company once Roche of Switzerland – run by Franz Humer, a lawyer – completes its $47bn buy-out of minorities later this year.
Fred Hassan, a chemical engineer who ran Schering- Plough of the US, will also cease to be a chief executive once Merck of the US – run by Richard Clark, who trained in liberal arts and business – completes its recently announced $41bn takeover.
The changes reflect a shift for the scientists who once dominated senior pharmaceuticals positions to give way to executives with backgrounds in marketing, legal or other more general business backgrounds.
The evolution mirrors growing legal and marketing expertise required to operate in the US, which remains the world’s largest medicines market, although its recent sluggish growth and renewed demand for greater innovation and science-based assessment of drugs may suggest different skills will be required in future.
Jacques Bouwens, from Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search company, said: “The percentage of scientists who have the capability and inclination to run companies is limited.”
A recent survey of pharmaceutical industry executives conducted by his company indicated that most believed there would be a significant further shake-up among the heads of research and development departments, as there was greater demand for external alliances and more integration with marketing functions.
The decline of scientists in top roles in industry may also suggest the difficulty for scientists in running large organisations, illustrated by the boardroom coup that last year ousted Gerard le Fur, the scientist who ran Sanofi-Aventis of France, after just 18 months. He was replaced by Chris Viehbacher, an accountant.
Mr Lechleiter, from Eli Lilly, who received a doctorate in organic chemistry at Harvard university, said: “I’m a rare bird among the large companies. It shows there’s no one pathway [to the top].”
He said he believed that it reassured his scientists to see him leading the company, and that he scrutinised the pipeline in detail.
Jean-Pierre Garnier, former head of GlaxoSmithKline in the UK, trained in pharmacology, while his replacement who took over last year, Andrew Witty, had a background in business and marketing. Pfizer of the US, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical group that is buying Wyeth, is run by Jeff Kindler, a lawyer.