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June 17, 2009
The View From Pfizer's Corner Offices
There's a good article from Lee Howard up at The Day (the New London/Groton newspaper) on the changes going on at Pfizer. It's the story according to management, though, which is worth having for its compare-and-contrast uses:
Despite the looming uncertainty, according to company spokesmen, the new research structure has added energy and urgency to the drug-discovery process in Groton. . .
. . .The changes in Groton - seen most plainly in displays of logos the new business units are in the process of choosing - have added drug-development staff and even legal experts to the R&D mix, along with biologists and chemists who typically have worked in close proximity. In the middle of it all sits the chief scientific officer of each business unit, as well as other managers.
The idea is to develop a more realistic idea of a drug's likelihood to succeed at an early stage and then bring it to market quicker if it seems to be working.
I hope that the process of choosing new logos doesn't take too long. You could get a reasonable read on the success of any attempt to remake Pfizer's culture by counting the number of meetings the logo process has required so far.
But I can't make fun of the goals that the company is setting - they're perfectly sensible. The only problem is that they're just what everyone else is trying to do, too, and if it were easy, everyone would be finished doing them by now. The problem with trying to get an earlier decision of a drug's chances for success are that many of the serious problems don't show up (in fact, can't show up) until larger clinical trials. And I don't think that anyone's got a good way around that one yet. Some therapeutic areas are better suited than others, to be sure.
Would the new structures that Pfizer's putting in place have prevented the torcetrapib disaster? I doubt it - that one took everyone by surprise. Would they have prevented the Exubera disaster? Now, that one's food for thought, because it seemed to be much more self-inflicted. If the company can avoid doing that sort of thing again, then they've accomplished something.
And for all the nasty things I say about Pfizer here, I hope that they do accomplish things. After all, they're the biggest drug company in the world, and they seem determined to stay that way. If an organization that huge ends up spinning its wheels (or sitting around designing new business cards), it can't be good for anyone.
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