Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Welcome, Wyeth, to Pfizer's Biotech Federation

This was, more or less, what Corey Goodman, president of Pfizer’s 18-month old Biotherapeutics and Bioinnovation Center (BBC), had to say yesterday about his company’s latest purchase. In fact it was more than a welcome, it was a positive bear-hug: “We expect that some of Wyeth’s biologics and biotech-like units will have the kind of culture and spirit that could easily be added to our federation; it would be a love affair,” he enthused in an interview last night.

Federations? Culture and spirit? Well, yes, don’t forget that this is the new Pfizer. A Pfizer that has, like various other Big Pharma, been trying to behave in a more biotech-y way, with talk of agility, innovation and accountability rather than multiple committees, micro-management and bureaucracy. Thus the BBC, for those that haven’t been keeping up, assembles five largely independent R&D groups, all headed up by ex-biotech folk, run (in a very hands-off manner) from Rinat’s headquarters in South San Francisco.

Acquired by Pfizer in 2006, antibody-focused Rinat is one of the giant's three recent biotech purchases that now form all (or part of) one of the five BBC members. San Diego-based CovX is another, and unlike Rinat--which was briefly swallowed into Pfizer’s global R&D operation (PGRD) before becoming the BBC hub--CovX joined BBC from the outset in January 2008. Meanwhile one of Coley’s units is now in Duesseldorf, Germany, focused on nucleic acids. This group reports into the fourth BBC unit, the Research Technology Center, a Cambridge, MA-based Pfizer operation that was realigned around vaccines and nucleic acids, and is now run by Coley co-founder and CSO Art Krieg. The Regenerative Medicine Unit in Cambridge, UK, is the fifth member of the BBC federation, created in collaboration with PGRD.

What they have in common, according to Goodman, is scientists with “fire in their eyes,” many from biotech. (Most of the scientists from Rinat and CovX remain, he says, although the CEOs left.) They keep their own name, and their culture and, says Goodman, “I hope that none ever grows to more than 150 people.” He’s also working on providing biotech-like compensation for the scientists. The over-arching goal is one we’re hearing more and more often from Big Pharma execs: to combine biotech’s advantages with the reach and resource of Big Pharma.

And it’s this combination—or contradiction, depending on your viewpoint—which allows the new, Wyeth-embracing Pfizer to become the hugest pharma in the world while at the same time staying small. “The organization as a whole is growing larger, but it’s breaking itself up into more decision-making, smaller groups,” explains Goodman. So Wyeth, which Goodman describes as “one of the first to start to embrace large molecules and a biotech-like culture”, will slot right in to new-look Pfizer, he argues. Some of their various biologics units (many stemming from Wyeth's (then AHP's) acquisition of the Genetics Institute, for instance) “might add to our federation,” Goodman speculates (it’s still too early to say for sure); others might add in other places.

Resolving the ‘getting-bigger-while-getting-smaller’ quandary (highlighted here yesterday) has pre-occupied Pfizer’s CEO Jeff Kindler and team for a good while, according to Goodman. The reality is that it won’t be a straightforward case of enlarging the federation; sites—and staff--will have to be cut and the structure simplified. But there will, insists Goodman, “be a natural way that they [Wyeth] fit into the business unit model”. Indeed, he concludes: “If we’re going to be successful as a company, it [getting bigger and getting smaller] can’t be a contradiction.”

image from flickr user ucumari used under a creative commons license.

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