An Interview with Devyn Smith, Head of Strategy for Pharmatherapeutics, Worldwide R&D at Pfizer

A Pfizer strategy leader discusses the concept of leadership


How has the concept of leadership developed over the past decade?

Like nearly all industries, the last decade has witnessed significant evolution of technology such that the way we do R&D, communicate and do business has fundamentally changed. This has required leaders to be aware of the rapidly changing environment and be poised to act quickly, when appropriate to capture opportunities as they emerge. For example, in 2001, the complete Human Genome was published. Since that time, a tremendous amount of new data has been generated that links specific genotypes as potentially playing a role in the pathology of specific diseases. With this data in hand, we have been able to utilize this genetic data to inform the genetic targets that drugs are designed to manipulate. This has resulted in a new era of drug discovery with multiple examples of targeted therapeutics now emerging in oncology and orphan diseases. Pfizer was one of the leaders of this trend. Our success was based on having strong relationships with academic partners who are leading the discovery of new genes of interest which has been a competitive advantage. This rapid strategic pivot occurred due to leaders being aware of the potential of Human Genetics and quickly acting to capture the potential value from the Human Genome Data.

Who sits closest to the Chief Strategy Officer in your organization?

Within Pfizer, strategy experts sit on senior leadership teams. In addition to the strategy professionals, senior leaders are expected to think strategically. This partnership between strategy and senior leaders is important for quick reactions to the ever changing environment. By closely aligning strategy professionals with senior leaders, for example, we are able to combine the monitoring of external trends with the assessment of our internal portfolio of project to quickly act to fill any gaps via business development activities.

What’s the most difficult aspect about today’s business environment from a strategic perspective?

In the Pharmaceutical industry, there have been multiple trends that have impacted the industry, including efforts to improve R&D productivity, many products losing exclusivity resulting in top-line pressure, and changes in the regulatory landscape. This has fundamentally changed the industry such that leaders are required to react quickly to changing trends and identify new ways of innovating. In R&D, new technology and scientific advancements have significantly altered the way drug discovery is performed requiring adaptation by leaders into this new paradigm. While the industry has evolved significantly, strategies have bifurcated into nearer-term vs longer-term strategies to address both the long industry R&D cycle times and the near-term financial pressures.

What trend do you see affecting your role most readily over the next 5-10 years?

The rapid pace of scientific discoveries is clearly a trend that is accelerating as we understand more and more about underlying disease pathologies, as well as identify new approaches for treating disease. New treatments being discovered are focused on providing significant efficacy to patients with some treatments being able to cure patients (e.g., Hepatitis C treatments). Against this exciting scientific revolution, there are multiple other trends such as government/payer changes and regulatory changes that are also changing the healthcare landscape.

Have you found scenario based planning to be influential in your strategic decisions?

Scenario based planning can be helpful in the R&D environment. Specifically, one can use it to scenario plan at both the macro and micro level. For example at the macro level, scenario planning can be used to identify options and strategies (such as M&A, regulatory changes, competitive changes, etc.) for the company based on different external environmental changes to enable rapid decision making. At the micro level, scenario based planning is used to model different outcomes in experiments which can provide more rapid response and decision making in the R&D portfolio.


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