Hours after announcing his departure from GlaxoSmithKline, reports have surfaced that Chris Viehbacher is set to move to a top post at Sanofi-Aventis.

Monday saw GSK announce that Mr Viehbacher was standing down from the board with immediate effect and would leave his post as president, North American pharmaceuticals, on December 1 “to pursue another opportunity”. Now reports flying across the news wires, citing a person “familiar with the situation”, are saying that this opportunity could be with the French drugmaker.

A Sanofi spokesman told PharmaTimes World News that “we have no information on any move” and GSK is saying nothing. As a result, speculation has grown through the day that Mr Viehbacher is being lined up to take over from Sanofi’s chief executive Gerard Le Fur.

A report later in the day on the website of the French newspaper Les Echos seemed to suggest that the deal is done. It claimed that two major shareholders in Sanofi, the oil giant Total and the cosmetics group L’Oreal have decided that Dr Le Fur should be replaced “without delay”. Dr Le Fur has only been CEO for a year and a half, having previously been head of R&D and his contract runs up to 2010.

Furthermore, Les Echos claims that the arrival of Mr Viehbacher ends “a month of very high tension” between Dr Le Fur and his predecessor and still chairman Jean-Francois Dehecq. The chief executive has also been under pressure given the fact that Sanofi’s share price is down about 20% on last year’s levels, amid fears that the firm’s pipeline is not strong enough to plug the earnings gap that will be created by looming patent expiries on Plavix (clopidogrel), Lovenox (enoxaparin) and Taxotere (docetaxel). The withdrawal of a marketing application to gain approval across the pond for the obesity drug Acomplia (rimonabant) last July after a US Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted 14-0 against approval has not helped Dr Le Fur’s cause either.

Nothing even vaguely official has emerged yet but Mr Viehbacher, who lost out in the three-horse race to Andrew Witty in the battle to replace Jean-Pierre Garnier as chief executive at GSK last year, would appear to fit the bill. He has dual Canadian and German citizenship, is a fluent French speaker and was general manager at Glaxo Wellcome France during the 1990s before heading up GSK’s European operations

In 2003, he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur, the highest decoration in France, for contributions to business and healthcare. Whether Sanofi wants to make the leap and pick an outsider as CEO remains to be seen but such a role could explain why Mr Viehbacher has turned his back on a £2.5 million bonus he could have picked up at GSK if he’d stayed until 2011.