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On the first Monday of May, Pfizer dosed the initial batch of healthy American volunteers in Baltimore with an experimental Covid-19 vaccine it developed with Germany’s Bio-NTech. Bourla was informed immediately. The following day, in an interview from his home in suburban Scarsdale, New York, he pointed out that it normally takes years to accomplish what Pfizer had just done in weeks. “How fast we moved is not something you could expect from the big, powerful pharma,” he said. “This is speed that you would envy in an entrepreneurial founder-based biotech.”
A Greek veterinarian who worked his way up the Pfizer corporate ladder for 25 years before becoming CEO in 2019, Bourla says nothing in his career could have prepared him for this moment. But he does believe the massive corporate transformation he has led—steering a behemoth conglomerate (2019 sales: $51.8 billion) deeper into the high-risk, high-reward game of developing new patented medicines and away from generic drugs and consumer products like Advil and Chapstick—has prepared Pfizer.
For Bourla, 58, the last four months have been a rollercoaster, an unending series of setbacks and victories. Pfizer is not alone in the race. Most of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, AstraZeneca and Roche, are throwing everything they can at Covid-19.
Some experts feel Bourla’s timeline—a viable vaccine in a matter of a few months—is simply unrealistic. Undeterred, Bourla has tasked hundreds of researchers to scour Pfizer’s trove of experimental and existing medicines to look for potential therapies. Early on, he openly authorized having discussions and sharing proprietary information with rival firms, moves unheard of in the secretive world of big pharma. Bourla has made Pfizer’s manufacturing capabilities available to small biotech concerns and is in talks as well to make large quantities of other companies’ Covid-19 drug candidates.
Pfizer’s most prominent effort is its work with Mainz, Germany–based BioNTech, an innovative $120 million (2019 sales) outfit that is mostly known for making cancer medications. The resulting experimental Covid-19 vaccine works with messenger RNA, a bleeding-edge technology that has never resulted in a successful treatment. Pfizer is hoping to get emergency-use authorization from the U.S. government for the vaccine by October. Its unique strategy is to rapidly pit four different mRNA vaccine candidates against one another and double down on the most likely winner.
Read the full profile on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2020/05/20/the-man-betting-1-billion-that-pfizer-can-deliver-a-vaccine-by-this-fall/#69185f30382e
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