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Sanofi-aventis picks former NIH director to lead research

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Elias Zerhouni, the former director of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), will head up R&D at the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-aventis.

He will replace Marc Cluzel and report to CEO Christopher A. Viehbacher starting from 1 January, according to a company statement.

Zerhouni, who led the biomedical research and funding agency between 2002 and 2008, promoted interdisciplinary and clinically-focused research and coped with a flattening budget. Under his watch, NIH adopted strict financial conflict of interest rules for its employees.

Since leaving NIH, Zerhouni has kept busy, consulting for Sanofi-aventis and serving on the boards of the Mayo Clinic and the Lasker Foundation. He’s also a Senior Fellow at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

After his departure Zerhouni, who grew up in Algeria, told Nature: “I decided that I didn’t want to take a big job. I have a passion in global health. I’m of international origin, from the developing world. So I’m assessing. I’m surveying. I haven’t decided what I want to do.”

He must be ready for a big job now. Sanofi-aventis, like many other pharmaceutical companies, has reorganized itself and cut spending. The company is also still trying to take over Cambridge, Masschusetts-based biotech Genzyme.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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