Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Unusual Suspects: If Pfizer Decides to Really Rattle the R&D Cages

Yesterday, we listed a group of people -- we called them the usual suspects -- that we think Pfizer will try to woo if it ends up turning to an outsider to head up R&D. Today, we'll list some people who could do the job -- but you probably wouldn't think of them right away.

First off: Mark McLellan, former boss of FDA and CMS. The industry loves him; so do politicians. He was even relatively popular among the famously disgruntled FDA staff. But McLellan has just gotten huge funding for his Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform and, as Founding Director, he's not likely to abandon his post at what could be the center of US health policy.

Others qualify for the less-usual category because they’ve spent their careers in research, not development, and because they haven’t had the top R&D job. Michael Dohlsten who runs discovery for Boehringer Ingelheim. “A change agent,” says one recruiter. “He’s just that good.” Likewise, Allen Oliff, GlaxoSmithKline’s discovery boss. Or Marc Tessier-Lavigne, an academic for two decades before joining Genentech in 2003, now playing #2 in research to Richard Scheller.

Indeed, Tessier-Lavigne’s academic career is a particularly intriguing model for Pfizer. If Pfizer "wants to break the mold," says one recruiter, giving a scrub to its tarnished scientific self-image, why not go with an out-and-out academic – which is exactly what Merck and Novartis did in hiring, respectively, Peter Kim and Mark Fishman? Kim’s success at Merck certainly argues for the direction.

So in terms of an academic, why not…Pete Schultz of Scripps, also the director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, a prolific company creator (Affymax, Kalypsis, Syrrx and Ambrx, among others), and—by various accounts—intensely ambitious? Probably not—say headhunters: tough personality for a corporate job.

There are certainly a bunch of young research stars—though our headhunters were unwilling to give us their best ideas here. But there’s a problem for Pfizer with this route: Peter Kim was able to understudy for a few years with the previous R&D boss, Ed Scolnick. Tessier-Lavigne is understudying now. A new young academic joining Pfizer won’t have the same chance since LaMattina leaves in December -- and no internal candidate would want to take a temporary coaching job in the corner office.

So what do we think will happen?

Up to now, Kindler & Co. haven't strayed far from the corporate nest in replacing top commercial and business development management. So it's not likely they'll do anything different with R&D, particularly given the sales job they'll have to do to attract a really capable outsider. Our money's on the top internal candidate, Martin Mackay.


Anonymous said...

An academic would be the absolute worst choice. Ask the BMS and Amgen folks!! Perlmutter had two years of real pharma experience and a history of damaged products (see vioxx and epo). BMS lost a generation of researchers and pipeline while they trained two sets of academic R&D heads. This business is tough and requires knowledge of execution. The last thing Pfizer needs is to spend two years teaching an R&D head the nuanses of regulatory and development execution!

Pharmalyst said...

Academic may not be all that bad. Look at what Peter Kim has done at Merck. Granted many of the recent approvals pre-dated Mr. Kim but he didn't mess them up & in fact speeded up approvals. The last thing Pfizer needs is another internal candidate. They really need two jobs to be filled by EXTERNAL people to change the culture there.
1. R&D Chied
2. Chief of Pharma commercial biz

Anonymous said...

I think the current trend of retro-fitting insiders to top jobs has hopefully run is disasterous course. This is a company that is screaming for change at all levels, not just R&D. Today's Pfizer lineup 1)a CEO who has very little Pharma experience that had a brief stint as PFE's legal council, 2)An R&D Head on his way out with no real confidence in the heir apparent, Martin Mackay, 3)A CFO who has been shown the door, 4)CIO with no experience in IT, 5)Business Development head with no real experience in this area. All the appointments in the last 18 months have been to Pfizer insiders whose only apparent skill appears to be loyalty. Please, enough is enough.