Pfizer is a huge multinational pharma company, innovative, acquisitive and highly successful, with 2018 revenues of $53.6 billion. Its products including popular cholesterol-reducing statins and erectile dysfunction treatments are among the world’s best-known and most widely used drugs.
Yet even Pfizer is changing the way it operates in response to the pressures and opportunities of digitalisation, as Peter Albiez, Country Head of Pfizer in Germany, explained to us.
The pharmaceutical industry is absolutely dependent on innovation. Traditionally, new medicines have been developed in two main ways: either via the work done in the big pharma companies’ research laboratories around the world or by small, specialized firms, often venture capital-backed start-ups, which will eventually be acquired or sell the rights to their discoveries to a larger company before the expensive (and often disappointing) phase of repeated clinical trials.
Despite advances in technology and our understanding of biological systems, the chances of any new compound proving itself to be safe and effective through several stages of clinical trials and coming to market are extremely small. Even today’s computer-aided drug design techniques can’t remove the need to try a large portfolio of options in the hope of finding a single viable product.
Five years ago, Pfizer began a new programme specifically aimed at collaborating and co-creating with start-ups. The idea was to combine the big company’s experience, know-how and facilities offering a customised approach to the needs of start-ups with the very different assets the digital entrepreneurs could bring to the table.
These assets of fresh thinking, tech skills, agility and speed have injected a new dynamism into the drug research process. And the results have been remarkable. Despite the potential culture clashes involved, Pfizer has benefited enormously from this initiative.
“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” says Albiez.
One vital element in this is the enormous amount of data the senior partner can bring to bear on their joint efforts. No small company, acting alone, would be able to access such a wealth of detail about patients, compounds and treatment methods. Within the collaborative framework Pfizer has set up, this information has been a key asset, providing clues to new approaches and helping the researchers avoid wasting time pursuing false trails.
“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,” says Albiez.
Pfizer believes digitalisation will fundamentally change the nature of healthcare, empowering patients to take more control of their wellbeing and medical conditions and helping the pharmaceutical industry research, develop and manufacture 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.
“Digitalisation needs to serve the people, not vice versa. It 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 in our book FightBack Now: https://bit.ly/fightbacknowde