Now fast forward again. The company that was not quite in the Big Pharma Top 20 on my first visit is now arguably the largest pharma in the world. It literally grew in leaps and bounds by acquiring a string of other companies that once seemed like unassailable industry giants. And though it became much more comfortable dealing with the media over time, it never lost its monolithic posture. Many of Pfizer’s peers professedly went to great lengths to keep their acquired organizations somewhat independent, but Pfizer famously devoured its acquisitions with impunity: Thou Shalt Now Be Pfizer! Partners, too, felt the imperious hand of Pfizer from their first encounters to the often painful post-deal relationships. But buying companies, partners, and products never added up to a net gain in R&D productivity because the resulting behemoth lacked the key ingredient: integration. Like the industry in general, Pfizer’s acquisitions bought it little else but time. When its enormous R&D engine broke down after failing to produce an adequate pipeline, the company reflexively slashed research spending and staff. But something else happened along the way — a sea change for the company not only in organization but also in philosophy. Like China or the former Soviet Union renouncing past Maoist or Stalinist practices, Pfizer has now declared an end to its legendary imperialism in favor of a new, open and collaborative research model.
Recently I interviewed Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, Pfizer’s Senior Vice-President of Bio Therapeutics Research & Development, where the company’s reformed philosophy, exemplified by its new Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, stands its greatest test — drug discovery. Gutierrez-Ramos argues that the company’s open research network is not only genuine, but already producing results. Look for my article, “The New Face of Pfizer Discovery,” in an upcoming issue of Life Science Leader.