“It’s exciting times,” said Kathy Fernando, Senior Vice President and Global Head of the Partner of Choice Organization at Pfizer Inc. Speaking about the newly launched Pfizer Ignite, Fernando reflected, “The pandemic has really crystallized for the industry the criticality of collaborations to unlock innovation for patients.”
To kick off BIO’s 2023 CEO and Investor Conference, Drew Armstrong, Executive Editor of Endpoints News, spoke with Kathy Fernando about the importance of dynamic and creative investment and partnership models to advance promising innovations—specifically when it comes to Pfizer’s new program, Pfizer Ignite.
“In a nutshell,” Fernando explained, “Pfizer Ignite focused solely on what we believe to be the most promising innovation out there within Pfizer’s R&D focus areas.” Continuing that, “We offer them a menu of end-to-end R&D services, and in exchange for those services, we get a fee. While that’s the most basic construct, sometimes depending on the needs of the company and depending on our needs, we may co-invest equity.” She added, “We may have some strategic rights as part of the partnership, but at the very core of the model is the provision of R&D services to amplify and accelerate innovation for the biotech companies we partner with.”
Pfizer’s motto? “Learn from our mistakes.”
Pfizer’s strategy aims to share their broader, historic experience and resources in the industry, with innovative companies that need those resources. “We use a combination of internal and external resources, and we manage the interface,” explained Fernando. “The benefit to the biotech companies is that they’re using an R&D engine that has a proven track record.” And Fernando’s comments highlight an interesting element to this new developing partnership model: learn from our mistakes.
“Pfizer, for example, is a very different company from what we were a decade ago,” she said. “Pfizer is now entering success rates in the clinic at 21%, which is about twice per median. We have very competitive cycle times and speed. So for a biotech company that has very promising innovation, they could essentially enhance the odds of success for patient impact by partnering with the Pfizer Ignite community, as well as realize that success sooner.”
A win-win for Pfizer and young biotech companies
But the success and partnership benefits of this collaboration style are, obviously, a two-way street. Younger or smaller biotech companies get an injection of support and resources (as well as add value to their programs), while simultaneously acting as a source of innovation for the Pfizer R&D portfolio. Ideally, the model is a win-win.
While some companies may find pause at the fee-structure of the partnership, Fernando explains Pfizer’s position: “The reason we charge a fee is it enables us to partner at a reasonable scale. Because if you want to have a reasonable number of programs and assets that you support, there’s always attrition in the industry for any program due to technical reasons or otherwise.” And ultimately, she explains, “We do assume a certain proportion of them are going to join the Pfizer portfolio.”
So far, the program has been received well, according to Fernando, despite its youth. “I’m absolutely thrilled with the positive reaction that we’ve got with the model,” she said. “And in terms of scale, by the end of the year, we met our ambitious goals and visions. And importantly, it was not just about closing a certain number of partnerships. We saw, for example, the first wave of partnerships that we signed earlier in the year, all of them have come back for a second round of follow-on services—and even a third in some cases. So there’s a good indication that the model is delivering value to biotech companies, and they’re coming back.”