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How Will New Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla Impact R&D Strategy?

In recent news, Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Ian Read stated he will step down at the end of 2018 after an eight-year tenure as CEO. He’s transitioning the role to Albert Bourla, long time veteran and current Chief Operating Officer at Pfizer. Having worked for Pfizer for 25 years, Bourla has held several positions spanning from technical director in Animal Health to head of the Innovative Health business to COO, and soon CEO.

During Read’s tenure as CEO, much of his time was dedicated to finding the next acquisition target to fuel growth. With an imminent change from Ian Read’s leadership, which has been focused on growth through acquisition, how could Bourla impact the direction of the industry juggernaut and world’s largest pharmaceutical company?

Innovate through Tech Disruption and People Connections

Bourla’s expertise in drug discovery and R&D coupled with a passion for technology creates a recipe for innovation and pipeline advancements. In a panel at BIO 2018, he shared how stakeholder relationships are fundamentally changing due to technology disruption, which ultimately influences patient-centricity. When asked what the core opportunities in the R&D space are for technology disruption, Bourla emphasized the importance of leveraging AI and machine learning to support the diagnosis of diseases throughout R&D processes. Most importantly, he believes that technology is creating more transparency which paves the way to a more patient-centric value chain.

Pfizer has been investing in artificial intelligence with the goal of democratizing its value across stakeholders. Specifically, they engaged in a crowdsourcing event to identify improved drug combinations and patient selection strategies. As with the rest of the industry, Pfizer is keen to shorten the drug development lifecycle through AI technologies. Bourla could be a multiplier for advanced technologies to support drug research and there’s potential for an increase in scale of Pfizer’s AI capabilities, ultimately resulting in new drug approvals.

We expect Bourla to focus on Innovative Health – the area of business focused on using emerging technologies to discover medical breakthroughs in areas of precision medicine and gene therapy. This business unit is said to bring in the most revenue and will yield the strongest growth opportunities in the coming years. According to Pfizer, there is a predicted 25-30 drug approvals by 2022, 15 of which have the potential to yield blockbuster sales.

With so much change and innovation in medicine today, Bourla has both a challenge and opportunity to execute against his and Pfizer’s stated strategies. As Pfizer is a clear market leader often serving as an industry bellwether, we’re excited to see what it means not only for Pfizer and its patients but for the industry at large as well.

Key Consideration: Are your R&D Teams Ready for Disruption?

Several key opinion leaders in the industry, including Albert Bourla, continue to advocate for continuous improvement through technological advancements. Taking their perspectives into consideration, there is an increasing need to focus on both the emerging technologies and the humans that interface with those technologies. It’s critical to understand the practical implications of this tech and how you can incorporate or use it to evolve existing business processes and practices.

As you look for opportunities to innovate drug discovery within your pharmaceutical business, consider the following questions:

  • How is your R&D team identifying and assessing new technologies and capabilities?
  • Do you have the right talent in the right places to use emerging platforms and technologies?
  • As personalized medicine moves R&D closer to production, how will new technologies or innovations affect manufacturing and supply chain?
  • How are you bridging the knowledge gap and evolving from what has worked for the past decades to what is new and emerging today?
  • How does this transformation in R&D align to the strategic organizational objectives?

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Coauthor and contributions: Lorraine Mackiewicz

Tags: Clinical Operations