Pfizer VP of Worldwide Innovation on Collaborating with Small Companies

Wendy Mayer is Vice President of Worldwide Innovation at pharmaceutical company Pfizer. She’ll join us on our Customers panel at Spring Fling: Matchpoint Boston. Here Mayer discusses how a large organization like Pfizer goes about working with smaller organizations. 

Matthew Holt: So Pfizer is a large pharmaceutical company that is doing a lot of work in internal strategy, but also taking part in investments and the connected health platform. Can you give me a flavor of a couple of things that you’ve been involved with over the last year or so that match those categories?

Wendy Mayer: Sure. So actually the investment area is a relatively new one for us, but we have been closely involved with some accelerator programs. I have someone on my team who has been a mentor to some of the local accelerators that we have here in New York.

We’ve been very actively involved with different venture funds to give some insight into areas that we’ve been focused on, and try to work on getting a better sense for where the environment is going and where there could be some opportunities.

So, I was having a conversation with a startup the other day that’s focused on partnering with some of the bigger physician information portals and using that as a way to kind of connect into some of Pfizer’s information. So we’re looking at those kind of opportunities and have made some direct investments in those areas.

We have an investment in an organization called Keas, which is a health and wellness gaming system that encourages and motivates people to change behavior towards more health and wellness types of activities. It utilizes a gaming methodology with points and rewards in order to incentivize that behavior.

Matthew Holt: We know them very well–they debuted Health 2.0’s San Francisco Conference in 2009. That’s great information.

Wendy Mayer: Yup! We’re using our external connections to make some direct investments from more of a strategic understanding.

Matthew Holt: Alright, I’m going to ask you easy, practical questions and then some philosophical questions.

The practical question is, if there is a small organization or technology company that might sit well with Pfizer, how do you guys approach them? What’s the best way for those organizations to somehow get in front of you? And what’s the specific thing that you’re looking for?

Wendy Mayer: Right. We’re essentially looking for alignment with our broader strategy. I think the biggest challenge that we have is that there are a lot of people with really great ideas and really great offerings, and we’re very often pitched on a number of different areas.

But the areas that we weaved and found internally, even if you can get an internal audience for an idea where teams get frustrated and hit the brick wall is if it’s not aligned from a strategic opportunity standpoint, then there just isn’t funding and support internally to move things forward.

So if you have an idea that you think will be aligned strategically, that could be an avenue in an angle to approach internally.

It is quite honestly, just about kind of knowing the people to connect with and in some ways, it’s the right person at the right time kind of situation.

But internally, we’re trying to do a better job of triaging some of these opportunities by putting the filter of strategic alignment on to many of these opportunities.

Matthew Holt: Yes, I think that’s something that Health 2.0 is actually doing with this Matchpoint process. We’re trying to figure out how you explain to a small startup, not only here’s what you need to say to these folks, but also to a large organization like the Pfizer or Enron or another, that what they’re actually looking for exists.

Wendy Mayer: Yeah. And I think quite honestly, there’s probably more of an onus on us, because if we’re expecting that we’ll be able to find some of these opportunities, then we need to be more specific and transparent about what areas of opportunity we’re focused on, because that’s where you get efficiency across the board.

We’re trying to–as best we can–be focused. The broader scattershot approach tends to not to work as well.

Matthew Holt: Let me ask you the most philosophical question, or broad strategic question, which is that Pfizer is obviously best known as a blockbuster brand. Recently, it’s biggest product has gone off patent. The organization as a whole, obviously, is going to have to do sort of more than less, and innovation is a big part of that.

But going forward five years, do you expect Pfizer to be regarded as not being a drug company but running other services that might come in through your organization? I’m trying to sort of grasp the strategic importance of your innovation-focused work to the overall business.

Wendy Mayer: Yeah, it’s an interesting question and I don’t know that I necessarily have the answer, but I will say that part of the debate that we have internally is do we need to do more with less or do we need to do less with less.

And I think that in part that’s to the question that you’re asking. So, do we need to try to be more things, because just being a drug company is not going to be sufficient, or do we need to be very targeted and focused and recognize where we could drive the greatest value within our organization and scale back on what we’re doing and focus just on that?

I will say we are very tuned to the needs of our stakeholders and the evolving health care environment. We spend a lot of time and effort to try to understand how a number of the global changes within the health care environment impact not only our business, but the business of all of our stakeholders, because that ultimately drives what they need and what they want and how we can best support them.

So to that end, we have been looking a lot at not just the drugs. I think we have a program that we just recently instituted that was actually one of our innovation platforms last year. Integrated Health is more about recognizing that there are a lot of elements that come into the management of the disease, and that drugs are just one part of that. At Pfizer we have a very good understanding of the disease states that our drugs are used to treat. So the opportunities that we have, whether it’s through a revenue generating opportunity or as a way to add greater value to the drugs that we deliver, is very much on improving outcomes.

What I don’t know is whether or not there will be things beyond those closer adjacencies that are tied to improving outcomes of particular disease areas.

And that’s an often internally debated topic as well. I think right now our stated direction and focus is on our innovative core. So that’s very much tied to the products in the disease areas that they represent.

But you’ll never know what the future will bring. This is our current position on the near-term horizon.

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