Matthew Herper of Forbes magazine wrote a review of a press conference held by Ian Read, the new CEO of Pfizer. Of interest to me was the following paragraph:
"One of the main goals of the changes is to try and prevent any repeat of Pfizer’s disastrous investment in Exubera, the inhaled insulin, which the company spent years developing before it hit the market and bombed. Without accountability, Read says, projects were handed off from one team to the next without demands that they actually be ready. 'You get the transfer from one stage to the next stage, always investing in hope rather than strong clarity of signals and clarity of medicine and clarity of mechanism.'"
While I continue to fault Pfizer for their lack of imagination when it comes to R&D, this statement is right on.
Some of you may have read my point of view on the Exubera debacle on this web site. Mr. Read seems to understand that once a project takes on a life of its own within the R&D pipeline it is nearly impossible to stop it.
Why is this the case? Because pharmaceutical firms have gotten so specialized and compartmentilized that people are simply completing the work assigned to them without seeing the big picture. It seems that even Lifecycle Teams are not able to complete a holistic review of a drug candidate. The stakeholders are simply focusing on getting their part of the work done right and on time and are rewarded for doing so. If the incentives are not based on team success then the chances of getting a compound on the market are significantly reduced. This is where the idea of accountability comes in and was highlighted by Mr. Read.
Now, Mr. Read's observation is not original. We have heard many times about the need to "fail early." Unfortunately, the acceptance of failure and the possibility of being rewarded for it has not really become a visceral behavior at most companies. Perhaps Mr. Read will take steps that will make this happen at Pfizer. If that happens others are sure to follow.