Gerard Le Fur, current deputy director general and head of R&D of the French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis, is to take over as chief executive from January 1, 2007, in succession to Jean-Francois Dehecq.

Dehecq, the current chairman and CEO of the group, has seen his own contract as president of Sanofi-Aventis’ board extended until the end of 2010, when he will reach the age of 70. Observers said the extension was designed to let Dehecq continue the process of expanding Sanofi-Aventis’ presence in the USA, a project that is scheduled to enter a new phase later this year or early in 2007.

The outgoing CEO also said that he was proposing to the board to separate the functions of president and CEO and would also nominate Le Fur as his successor before the end of this year.

He added that his successor, who is aged 55, has been in the company for 20 years and he had worked with him on a daily basis for several years and knew he had all the qualities to direct the group, now the third largest drugmaker worldwide.

Rene Barbier de la Serre, chairman of the company's remunerations and nominations committee within the board, said the choice of successor had been discussed for some time and had the virtue of allowing a smooth transition.

Dehecq had said that he hoped to remain in charge of Sanofi-Aventis until the company reached the position of number one drugmaker worldwide. It is currently ranked number three, after Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline and ahead of Novartis and AstraZeneca.