Pfizer's representative at the 2015 IATI Biomed conference in Tel Aviv was president of worldwide research and development (WRD), portfolio strategy and investment committee chairman, and executive VP Mikael Dolstein. As part of his job, he is very involved in cooperative ventures with external parties. "I was very much looking forward to my visit to Israel, where I met companies, academic groups, and venture capital funds in order to see how our cooperative ventures in innovation can be extended to the Israeli biomedical community," he says.
"Globes": What lies behind Pfizer's acquisition strategy and focus?
Dolstein: "Our focus is currently on cancer, vaccinations, heart disease, inflammatory diseases, rare diseases, and mental and brain diseases. We also have a division for established products not necessarily in these areas and a generics division. We decided to focus our innovation, because we realized that knowledge of a disease we treat from the beginning of its development process until we have a profound understanding of the science, the marketing stage, and a close connection with the patients and doctors were important to us. We are already well-positioned in all of these areas from the beginning of the process until its end, except in neurology. There, we had a past, and we're now building a future.
"This is indeed a period of mergers and acquisitions, and it's also happening because the market is more mature and growth is less impressive. There's growth in specific areas, but on the average, growth is typical of a mature market, not a new one. In such a situation, overlapping capabilities are created in some of the companies, and actually excess capabilities in spheres like production, marketing, and distribution, with a lack of coordination between what companies can give and what the market can accept. Mergers are therefore needed for greater efficiency and for focusing investment on real innovation.
"Our future acquisitions will probably be in the six activity spheres I mentioned, but we've also got our eyes open for opportunistic deals that are not in our core fields, if they bring us products that are true breakthroughs."
How do the products of Protalix Biotherapeutics Inc. (NYSE MKT:PLX; TASE: PLX) and Opko Health Inc. (NYSE: OPK; TASE: OPK) fit in with this business?
"We realize that Israel has vast experience in the biological realm. According to our definition, Opko and Protalix are in the rare diseases field. Opko works with human growth hormone, in which we have a great deal of experience, mainly with children. It enables us to greatly improve the existing product using technology that makes it possible to administer human growth hormone more frequently. Protalix's product for Gaucher's Disease is a smaller product for us. It enters the market almost like biological generics (in contrast to Opko's product, which is the next generation of products in the field). Its sales are therefore relatively low, compared with what certain people may have expected. But we're satisfied with all of our products that help patients."
How do you see the future of the biosimilars field, to which you recently made a commitment with the acquisition of Hospira?
"The biological drugs market totals $100 billion, and imitations of biological drugs will be a significant part of it. Analysts forecast that this market can grow from $1 billion today to $20 billion by 2020 - an impressive rate by any standards. We have developed several products in the cancer field that are at a relatively advanced stage, and Hospira added products already in the market for us, including the first biosimilar antibody approved for marketing in Europe.
"This area is not classic generics; it requires special capabilities, and we have such capabilities, in addition to the reputation that will enable patients to believe in our products and switch with more confidence from the existing product to a biosimilar."
How much time will it take to solve the legal, regulatory, and clinical questions in this sphere?
"It will be very quick. We'll see approval for the more simple products in the field, based on peptides instead of whole proteins, within a few years."
The memory improving game
Where do you stand on digital health?
"We're putting more thought into how to improve the value from all our drugs for patients and the health system by adopting a more holistic approach. We want to understand how the product behaves, not just from the patients' infrequent visits to the doctor, but continuously. Fortunately, it's now possible to analyze all of this information. We're certainly looking at companies in this field, and creating cooperative efforts for both existing products and the development of new products, for example in the area of wearable medical monitoring devices and cellular applications.
"For example, a while ago, we signed a deal with a small software company named Akili Interactive Labs, which has developed a game designed to improve memory and multitasking abilities for Alzheimer's Disease patients and healthy people at risk of memory loss. We contacted this company because of its diagnostic capabilities, but we discovered that the product itself improves the patients' performance. All of our multitasking abilities deteriorate with age, but the game makes it possible to subtract decades from our age in this area. As of now, it's less clear how these capabilities fit in with ours as a drug company, but we believe that these products will play an important role in recruiting people to maintain their health more actively, and that's a joint goal for all of us."
Which technologies do you want to acquire?
"We're looking for products based on scientific breakthroughs, such as our Ibrance product for breast cancer, which really changes the patient' life, and may even cure some of them. We think that breakthrough products will come from the immune-oncological (harnessing the immune system for the war against cancer, G.W.) and the genetic therapy sector, which may also provide cures. We're searching for products for earlier diagnosis of neurological diseases and products that will help us classify diseases into sub-categories, so that each category can be given more focused handling. It looks like the more homogeneous a disease is, the easier it is to find a drug. We're also looking for innovation in the way drugs are used in order to have the drug reach specific tissue, and products for improving real-time measurement of the taking of drugs and their effect."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 14, 2015
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