Reading the news sometimes gives me a disorienting sense of déjà vu. I know I wrote that last week, but it’s true again for a different reason. Today, French heavyweight sanofi aventis (Paris) announced that it was acquiring a majority stake in Shantha Biotechnics (Hyderabad, India). This new development follows a now-familiar pattern.
A prime benefit of the acquisition is that it gives sanofi a portfolio of new vaccines in development, said Christopher A. Viehbacher, the company’s CEO, in a press release. This emphasis on biological medicines was a major reason behind Roche’s (Basel) purchase of Genentech (South San Francisco, CA), Merck’s (Whitehouse Station, NJ) acquisition of Schering-Plough (Kenilworth, NJ), and Pfizer’s (New York) purchase of Wyeth (Madison, NJ). The sanofi–Shantha deal also provides more evidence that Asia and emerging markets are where it’s at.
Several factors should make the transition a smooth one. For starters, sanofi aventis is no stranger to large-molecule production. In 2008 alone, the company’s vaccines division, Sanofi Pasteur, produced more than 1.6 billion doses of vaccines to protect against 20 diseases.
What’s more, sanofi is buying a majority stake in Shantha from a subsidiary of Mérieux Alliance (Lyon), which has its origin in Institut Mérieux (Lyon) just as Sanofi Pasteur does. Alain Mérieux, chairman of the Mérieux Alliance, will chair a strategic committee to oversee the acquisition. Mérieux’s stewardship will surely bridge any cultural gaps there might be between sanofi and Shantha, but the companies’ common heritage makes me doubt that a clash would arise.
The New York Times suggested that Roche’s acquisition of Genentech would be relatively easy because of the two companies’ long history together. I’d expect smooth sailing for sanofi and Shantha, too. Let’s see whether the deal brings sanofi even closer to the top of the pharmaceutical-industry pyramid than it already is.