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Former NIH Chief Zerhouni to Lead Research at Sanofi-Aventis

Former National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni finally has a full-time job: head of research and development for Sanofi-Aventis, the French pharmaceutical giant.

Zerhouni is a radiologist and inventor who spent most of his career as a researcher and administrator at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he's still on the faculty. As NIH director from 2002 to October 2008, he dealt with tightening budgets and launched programs to speed the translation of basic lab discoveries into drugs. Responding to congressional concerns, he also banned paid consulting for drug companies by NIH campus scientists.

Since leaving the government, Zerhouni has served as a U.S. science envoy to the Middle East and a senior fellow at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and has run a consulting company. He's also been a scientific advisor to Sanofi-Aventis CEO Christopher Viehbacher since February 2009.

Viehbacher said in a statement that Zerhouni, who will be based at the company's headquarters in Paris, has helped the company reshape its research efforts. "I am delighted that a world-renowned figure such as Elias is on board to lead and drive our R&D organization," Viehbacker said. A native of Algeria, Zerhouni speaks French fluently. He starts on 1 January.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Sanofi-Aventis is struggling to find ways to make up for revenue that will be lost when several of its drugs lose patent protection in the next few years. The company is trying to buy Genzyme Corp. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which specializes in drugs for rare diseases.