Pfizer said on Friday it would replace current chief executive Hank McKinnell with vice chairman Jeffrey Kindler, effective immediately, ‘to accelerate the company’s transformation’.

McKinnell has been CEO of Pfizer for five years, and will remain as chairman until February 2007. However, his tenure has coincided with a downturn in fortunes at the firm – which also extended to the pharmaceutical industry as a whole – and a 40% reduction in its share price.

McKinnell, 63, was due to retire as CEO and chairman in 2008. He has been criticized of late for drawing a hefty remuneration package at a time when Pfizer was having to restructure to maintain its competitiveness, slashing its workforce and divesting facilities an a programme aimed at saving $4 billion a year by 2008.

Kindler joined Pfizer in 2002 from McDonald’s Corp and advances to the top position ahead of two fellow vice chairmen, Pfizer veterans David Shedlarz, who heads up finance at the company, and head of pharmaceutical operations Karen Katen.

Mr Kindler said the industry was undergoing "unprecedented change.”

"In response,” he said, “we will transform virtually every aspect of how we do business, focusing on actions that create and sustain value for our shareholders."

McKinnell said: "The board and I see the pharmaceutical industry changing rapidly. Pfizer is changing as well and aggressively transforming its business model to build the next-generation Pfizer."

He added that Kindler is “a gifted, natural leader” who “knows Pfizer and has had extensive experience outside Pfizer as well.”