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'Patients First' Pfizer wields science to change lives
GLOBAL pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has a bold ambition. It wants to get as many breakthrough medicines as possible into patients' hands, a goal borne out of its core purpose - to deliver "breakthroughs that change patients' lives".
And when Pfizer speaks of "breakthroughs", it looks not just to marginal progress in medicinal efficacy but transformative medicines that change how important diseases are treated and managed, says Pierre Gaudreault, Regional President, Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group, Asia Emerging Markets, Pfizer Inc.
"Our purpose is grounded in our belief that all people deserve to live healthy lives," he says. "This drives our desire to provide affordable access to medicines that are safe and effective."
Pfizer's global portfolio is extensive, with vaccines, medicines for cancer, inflammation and immunology, internal medicine and rare disease, as well as anti-infectives and sterile injectables that are used both in and out of hospitals.
These products reached more than 784 million people in 2018 alone, Mr Gaudreault says. "This focus on patient impact is why our company exists. It's also why we need to continue to drive growth."
Growth powered by innovation
Looking at 2019 and beyond, Mr Gaudreault believes Pfizer's growth prospects will hinge on its ability to deliver both scientific and commercial innovation.
"Science, powered by digital technology, is well positioned to deliver new breakthrough solutions for unmet medical needs. Through our science, we are committed to significantly improve current standards of care for patients, and we are equally committed to address and improve patient access and medicine affordability," he says.
Pfizer's biopharmaceutical business, in particular, is well-placed to capitalise on key trends on the horizon, says Mr Gaudreault, who in his current role oversees six categories of Pfizer's products including vaccines and oncology drugs.
On the one hand, the world's ageing population is generating more demand for innovative medicines. On the other, advances in biological science and digital technology have improved the delivery of new medicines. And, healthcare systems around the world are evolving too, with hospitals playing an increasingly significant role in many healthcare systems.
These are trends that Pfizer watches closely and is ready to respond to, Mr Gaudreault says. "We are entering an era of growth. All efforts made in R&D have positioned Pfizer to have the strongest pipeline we've ever had."
That pipeline includes a new push to deliver medicines used in cancer treatment, one that has made industry observers sit up. Pfizer now sells 17 oncology medicines, more than any other pharmaceutical company, and is set to generate US$8.3 billion from the sale of oncology products this year, according to EvaluatePharma.
At the cutting edge
As science pushes the frontiers of what is known about cancer and other diseases - allowing for new medicines to be developed - digital technology too, is pushing boundaries.
Being one of the world's premier innovative biopharmaceutical companies naturally puts Pfizer on the frontline of healthcare innovation.
"Artificial intelligence, wearable sensors, the digitisation of healthcare records, and other innovations will boost our drug discovery efforts and shorten our clinical trial times," says Mr Gaudreault.
The power of artificial intelligence to sift through large amounts of complex data is speeding up scientific research. Pfizer has worked with IBM Watson, for instance, in the field of immune-oncology research, which seeks ways to harness the body's own immune system to fight cancer.
And then, there's the impact on the wider healthcare sector. New technologies allow physicians to better manage diseases with earlier diagnosis, more tailored and targeted treatments, and real-time follow-ups on their patients' progress. These technologies are also empowering patients to take a more active role in managing their own health and make more informed healthcare decisions.
For instance, Pfizer and IBM have collaborated on research in the area of monitoring tools that would allow clinicians to care for patients with Parkinson's disease, through wearable technologies such as smart spoons or pens fitted with sensors.
Says Mr Gaudreault, "Technology is redefining the relationships between pharmaceutical companies, insurers, healthcare providers and patients. As a company, we want to embrace these new-age technologies such that we can make a meaningful difference to the lives of our patients."
Meeting needs in emerging markets
Within the scope of the medicines Pfizer already offers too, there remains considerable scope for growth, particularly in the emerging markets.
The rapidly growing middle class in these markets, which collectively have a population of 5.7 billion and average GDP growth of 4.8 per cent, fuels ever rising aspirations for a higher quality of life and better healthcare.
"Yet, healthcare spend as a percentage of GDP (in the emerging markets) is still only half of that in the developed world. The opportunity for us to improve our impact and expand our business is strong," says Mr Gaudreault.
He oversees 10 markets across Asia, including India, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, and knows well the dynamism of Emerging Asia in particular.
"Rising income, a growing middle class, urbanisation, the ageing population, will continue to drive high public demand for better healthcare and infrastructure," he says. On top of that, there is now a strong political will to push for universal health coverage across developing Asia.
These trends have translated into strong growth in hospitals, including the development of private hospitals, and more patients being diagnosed and seeking treatment.
Mr Gaudreault believes Pfizer's portfolio of high-quality, branded medicines is well-positioned to meet the opportunities in emerging markets. In fact, its Emerging Markets business unit focuses exclusively on addressing these opportunities.
Serving global markets, local communities
With operations in more than 125 countries worldwide, Pfizer sees it as a core responsibility to collaborate with healthcare providers, governments and local communities.
Here in Singapore, where commercial operations started in 1964, that commitment has been demonstrated through a steady stream of investments.
Pfizer has invested both in commercial activities, which bring new innovative medicines faster to market, as well as in manufacturing operations. Many of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) that go into Pfizer's top products are already being produced at its plant in Tuas.
Indeed, Mr Gaudreault notes, Pfizer now provides more than 600 jobs in Singapore across four locations, and is a significant contributor to Singapore's biomedical manufacturing production.
That responsibility to local communities extends beyond business investments. In many markets, Pfizer's mission of bringing life-changing breakthroughs to patients translates into a social commitment to improve access to healthcare in underserved populations.
For one, it has pledged to supply up to 740 million doses of its pneumococcal vaccine up till 2025, to prevent childhood deaths. To do this, it works with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private partnership that aims to raise access to immunisation in poor countries.
In the South-east Asia region, Pfizer has donated more than two million doses of its antibiotic to help Vietnam eradicate trachoma, the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. Since 2003, it has also donated over three million doses of its anti-infective to Cambodia, providing treatment to patients with AIDS-related fungal infections.
Vaccines and drugs aside, the Pfizer Foundation also makes regular grants to communities in crisis. US$500,000 was given in support of the Philippines' 2013 disaster relief efforts, while another US$150,000 was donated to provide local assistance in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
What this all circles back to, Mr Gaudreault says, is still that central purpose of creating breakthroughs that transform lives. "We are committed to applying science and our global resources to bring therapies to people that extend and significantly improve their lives."