Pfizer promotes potential CEO successor Bourla

Pfizer has promoted Albert Bourla, seen as a likely successor to incumbent CEO Ian Read, to the newly-created role of chief operating officer.

The move could help Read focus on long-term strategy, allowing him to complete the mega-merger that he has coveted for many years before retiring or moving on.

According to latest industry gossip, Pfizer could have its sights set on neurology specialist Biogen and its potential Alzheimer’s drug, aducanumab – although there are long-standing rumours that Read has his eye on Bristol-Myers Squibb and its cancer immunotherapy blockbuster, Opdivo.

Taking his new position on January 1, Bourla, 56, has been working for Pfizer since 1993 and was most recently president of its Innovative Health business, responsible for the development of the firm’s new medicines.

Albert Bourla

Albert Bourla

While Pfizer last year fought off the likes of Sanofi to acquire cancer biotech Medivation for $14 billion, Read has twice failed to get mega-mergers across the line.

In 2014, Pfizer walked away from a $118 billion merger with AstraZeneca after failing to convince the UK firm’s board over the value of a merger that was designed to reduce the US pharma’s tax levels.

And in April last year Allergan and Pfizer scrapped a $160 billion merger, which would have seen Pfizer relocate to Ireland in order to cut its tax bill.

That deal was overturned by the Obama administration’s efforts to cut back on so-called “tax inversion” deals.

Read’s predeccessor, Jeff Kindler, oversaw Pfizer’s $68 billion acquisition of Wyeth in 2009 before losing his job in a boardroom coup.

This followed the £60 billion takeover of Pharmacia in 2002 by then-CEO Hank McKinnell, and predecessor William Steere’s $90 billion hostile takeover of Warner-Lambert in 2000.

SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst John Boris thinks the move clarifies Bourla’s status as a likely successor to 64-year old Read.

According to Reuters, Boris said that because Pfizer is focusing on innovative products “Albert would be the successor apparent as long as he continued to launch products appropriately.”

Ian Read

Read said in a statement: “The naming of a chief operating officer comes at a time when our business is strong as we continue to advance our strategy while also managing a dynamic and challenging external environment.”

“The addition of a COO will enable me to spend more time focusing on the company’s long-term strategic direction, ensuring continued R&D productivity and engaging with government policy and industry leaders on key issues facing the future of the healthcare industry.”

Bourla is a doctor of veterinary medicine and has a PhD in biology of reproduction from the Veterinary School of Aristotle University. Other previous Pfizer posts include leading the firm’s Established Products business, and president of Animal Health across Europe, Africa and Asia Pacific.

Following the move, John Young, currently president of Pfizer’s Essential Health generics and biosimilars business, takes over as group president of Pfizer Innovative Health.

Angela Hwang, global president and general manager for Pfizer Inflammation and Immunology will succeed Young as group president of Pfizer Essential Health.

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