Pfizer fast-tracks drug development by harnessing the power of startups
Pfizer is one of the world’s premier biopharmaceutical companies. Its products — including popular cholesterol-reducing statins and erectile dysfunction treatments — are among the world’s best-known and most widely used drugs. And, through their partnerships with global health institutions, they blend philanthropy and business approaches to increase access to medicines and vaccines where they are needed most.
But just like every other company, Pfizer is faced with adapting to the pressures and opportunities of digital change, as Peter Albiez, Country Head of Pfizer in Germany, explained.
The pharmaceutical industry is dependent on innovation. Traditionally, new medicines have been developed in two ways: in research laboratories at big pharma companies or at venture capital-backed start-ups, which are eventually acquired or sell the rights to their discoveries to a larger company, before expensive clinical trials begin.
Despite advances in technology and our understanding of biological systems, the chances of any new compound being safe and effective enough to reach the market are low. Even with advanced machine learning techniques a large portfolio approach is the only strategy that works.
Like many other multinationals, Pfizer has a programme specifically aimed at collaborating and co-creating with start-ups. The idea is to combine their experience, know-how and deep pockets with the different assets imbued by the digital masters of the startup world.
Among the characteristics common to tech entrepreneurs, Peter Albiez cites fresh thinking, tech skills, agility and speed — installing a new dynamism into the drug research process at Pfizer. And the results have been remarkable. Despite the potential culture clashes involved, Pfizer has benefited enormously.
“After five years of experience in collaborating with start-ups, we can absolutely state that, if set up the right way, this is a win-win endeavour.”
One vital element in this is the enormous amount of data the senior partner can bring to bear on their joint engagement. No small company, acting alone, would be able to access such a wealth of detail about patients (big data), and deep domain knowledge. Within the collaborative framework Pfizer has set up, this information has been a key asset, providing clues to new approaches and helping researchers avoid wasting time pursuing dead-end drug trials.
“I’m convinced that data is a tremendous treasure that can help us in accelerating the development of diagnostics and new medicines and providing better prevention and care.”
Pfizer believes digitalisation will fundamentally change the nature of healthcare. Patients can take control of their wellbeing and medical conditions and pharmaceutical companies can finetune the research, development and manufacture of innovative drugs and services to improve patient outcomes.
For Albiez, that means grasping “a multitude of opportunities to support and enhance our purpose”. The successful start-up collaboration programme is just one element in a radical reshaping of the way the company works.
“Digitization needs to serve the people, not vice versa,” he says. “Digitalisation means tremendous change, which might also lead to uncertainty, and we all have an obligation to proactively manage this transformation.
“It is a strategic priority for Pfizer to be part of the digital transformation, to drive new opportunities and to think digital in every step of our value generation for patients.”
Read more about how companies are using collaborative frameworks to tap into the power of tech entrepreneurs for a new path to innovation: https://amzn.to/2OHUiTQ