Mikael Dolsten exits Pfizer, putting R&D leadership in flux

Pfizer’s chief scientific officer and president of R&D Mikael Dolsten

Pfizer’s chief scientific officer and president of R&D, Mikael Dolsten, has said he will step down from the role in the coming months, kicking off the search for a successor.

Dolsten’s decision will bring to an end a 15-year career at Pfizer, which began with the company’s acquisition in 2009 of Wyeth, at which he served as president and head of R&D. A medic by training, he previously had senior roles at Boehringer Ingelheim and AstraZeneca.

Pfizer’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, said the group had experienced an “exceptional scientific and R&D resurgence” under Dolsten’s tenure, with more than 35 drug and vaccine approvals, of which more than half were new molecular entities (NMEs).

That list includes the BioNTech-partnered COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty and oral therapeutic Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir/ritonavir), which had a critical role to play in saving lives during the pandemic, as well as RSV vaccine Abrysvo and blockbuster medicines like anticoagulant Eliquis (apixaban), Ibrance (palbociclib) for cancer, and rare disease therapy Vyndaqel/Vyndamax (tafamidis).

Dolsten’s departure comes as Pfizer is trying to adapt to the post-pandemic world where massive windfall revenues from Comirnaty and Paxlovid have dried up and the company is looking to new avenues for growth like antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) for cancer, which drove its $43 billion takeover of Seagen that completed last December.

In a LinkedIn post, Dolsten said that bringing those new medicines to patients was “the honour of a lifetime” aided by “thousands of brilliant medicine and vaccine hunters,” but added that his gut instinct is that it is time to leave Pfizer.

“When I made the difficult decision to leave my practice as a physician and join the biopharmaceutical industry, I was motivated by the exponential impact I could have on people’s lives. Looking back, my gut instinct proved to be right,” he wrote.

“I’ve arrived at another pivotal point in my life and career, and it’s again time to make a difficult decision,” he added, while also making it clear that a new role within the industry is around the corner.

“I hope that I can contribute to the next wave of breakthroughs in exciting, new ways, working with the next generation of scientific leaders who are pushing the boundaries of science.”

Dolsten will stay on at Pfizer likely until early next year, in order to help Bourla find his successor and smooth the transition to the new R&D leadership.