It was a big day for Pfizer yesterday with the company selecting its new president of R&D and launching a new biotherapeutics centre which “will have the entrepreneurial spirit of biotech”.

The new head at R&D, succeeding John LaMattina, is Martin Mackay who has been with Pfizer since 1995 and has most recently served as vice president of global R&D and senior vice president of worldwide development. He will report to chief executive and chairman Jeff Kindler who said that it will be Dr Mackay’s job to drive changes in the firm’s “goals, performance measurements, allocation of resources, culture and leadership so that Pfizer delivers a steady stream of new medicines”.

Dr Mackay outlined a five-point plan to deal with the task ahead, beginning with the need to “aggressively advance the late stage portfolio”. He noted that “with 47 compounds in Phase II across a number of very promising therapeutic areas, we have the opportunity to have more Phase III starts next year than at any time in our history”. In tandem with this, Pfizer needs to focus its resources “’on the compounds and disease areas that represent the best opportunities” and work with its business development unit “to secure external products and platforms in those priority areas”.

Thirdly, the company says that it is looking to “dramatically raise the bar” on productivity now that recent organisational changes are nearing completion. Dr Mackay said that the firm has completed the transfer of all R&D projects and relocated hundreds of scientists to other sites. He added that “the plans to rapidly develop our late stage pipeline have been put in place and we see good progress on that critical imperative.”

New unit to be set up in California biotech hotbed

The last two of the five-point plan relate to the setting-up of Pfizer’s new ‘biotherapeutics and bioinnovation’ centre, which will be presided over by Dr Corey Goodman, co-founder of two high-profile biotech companies, Exelixis and Renovis. This new venture “is a significant departure for Pfizer and the pharmaceutical industry,” the New York-based drugs giant said, noting that it will have “the entrepreneurial spirit of biotech and collaborate broadly with the academic, biotech, and venture communities to focus on discovering and developing new medicines”.

Dr Goodman claimed that “biological innovation is exploding. There is so much to explore in terms of new targets and new technologies. With our collaborative and entrepreneurial model, we will be in the best position to find promising new targets, technologies and tools externally, to discover them organically, and to leverage them with the scale and know-how of Pfizer so as to turn them into potential new medicines”.

The unit will be involved in the fifth point, namely attempts to “pursue the best science outside Pfizer’s walls through collaborative opportunities with academia and the medical and biotech community in order to secure access to cutting-edge technologies.” A key player in helping this process will be Briggs Morrison, who has left Merck & Co where, according to Dr Mackay, “he played an important role in the transformation of Merck’s clinical development operations’, to become senior vice president for clinical development at Pfizer.

Analysts responded positively to the news, claiming that Pfizer is at least making a move in the right direction by separating out some key units and giving them a high degree of autonomy in the bid to building up the firm’s pipeline. The share price only sneaked up 0.9% to $25.30, however, suggesting that investors want to see some more meat on the bones of this plan before embracing the stock again By Kevin Grogan