TiEcon 2022: Pfizer chief Bourla recounts race against time to find Covid vaccine

iNDICA News Bureau-

The Covid-19 pandemic affected the entire world, and of the many organizations that were called upon to deliver health care during the crisis, none is more famous than Pfizer.

Pfizer is the parent company responsible for the development and manufacture of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and for several groundbreaking scientific discoveries related to the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus.

In nine months, Pfizer’s teams of scientists studied and analyzed the coronavirus variants and created and mass-manufactured a vaccine. The natural challenges of this process of scientific discovery were compounded by quarantines, work-from-home requirements, limited access to laboratories and scientific equipment, manufacturing shortages, etc.

TiEcon 2022, the world’s largest conference for entrepreneurs. featured a talk with Dr Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, one of the eight grand keynotes at the three-day event that ended May 7, discussing how the pharmaceutical giant overcame the Covid challenge and talking about the company’s future.

Dr Bourla became head of Pfizer in 2019. Mobilizing the company in the most challenging conditions, he was at the head of the nine-month race to create the Pfizer vaccine – instituting new methods of work, establishing new protocols, and coordinating a massive effort to change the culture of the company fast enough to keep it ahead of the demands of the pandemic.

A Greek immigrant and child of two Holocaust survivors, Dr Bourla was named the 2022 Genesis Prize Laureate in recognition of his work during the pandemic.

Dr Bourla said first up that he inherited a company that was in excellent shape. Even prior to the pandemic, Pfizer was a scientific powerhouse with robust management and hierarchy, which facilitated the process of meeting the demands of the pandemic.

He said the company’s existing organizational strength was an asset in working with untested technology.

From the perspective of leadership, he explained that the urgency that the pandemic instilled in the organization led him to make several changes — chiefly, cutting out the bureaucracy of such a large organization and ensuring that different management levels were represented in the same room, as there was no time to waste in repetitive meetings.

He made several other changes to the company’s culture. Speed of decision making was a key element and so communications needed to be revamped. To improve interdepartmental awareness, the number of meetings was increased. Inclusivity became a goal. He also ensured that the organization’s production was increased to meet demand — Pfizer, apart from producing vaccines, also produces several medicines for which demand spiked during the pandemic.

As leader of the organization, Bourla made it clear that the emphasis was on taking care of the well-being of the employees, stating that burnout was normal, but as part of Pfizer’s long-term goals, it was important to ensure a positive working environment. He said that as the leader, he had 15 goals for changing the company’s culture to improve the working conditions, and only two remained unfulfilled despite the challenges of Covid.

About the company’s vision for the future, Dr Bourla said he desires to make Pfizer the partner of choice for all companies. It was his prediction that a scientific renaissance is underway for the next decade at least, and integrating technology with scientific and medical development is critical.

He also placed great emphasis on keeping the company independent — steering clear of government funding and focusing on healthcare policies rather than politics.

He said managing external relations is a large part of his job as CEO and he tries to prevent his employees from having to engage with political affairs — acting as a seal to ensure the company and employees work smoothly.

It is his vision that Pfizer become the industry standard for the future, one which his leadership has been outlined around.