The Pfizer/Allergan deal is widely rumored to be going through, and Brent Saunder of Allergan is widely rumored to be the new company’s CEO. That prospect cannot be making Pfizer’s research employees happy. Saunders himself has said a lot of not-so-enthusiastic things about in-house drug research, although he’s recently been speaking in a different tone of voice.
And as it happens, Saunders has a short guest post at Matthew Herper’s Forbes blog this morning, an appearance that really does make me think that he is in line to take over. He’s addressing the topic of his attitude towards research, and the piece is. . .well, it’s a bowl of room-temperature instant vanilla pudding. The word “innovation” shows up an awful lot. Here’s a sample:
There has been a lot of discussion about my views about pharmaceutical research and development. Let me cut to the chase. I’m pro-R&D, but I don’t believe that any single company can corner the market on innovation in even one therapeutic area. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do basic research where they have special insights, but even then they need to be open to the ideas of others. . .
. . .Much of today’s breakthrough science originates from biotech, specialty pharma and academia. We still find innovation in our own labs, but recognize that much of it will come from these other sources, and have to be humble enough to know we often will find great innovation outside our walls. We need to listen to customers to discover the best way to serve patients. We need to challenge ourselves to think differently.
Yeah, that’s not going to calm anyone down. This sounds like something from the annual report – vetted by Susan in Legal, by Sheila over in HR, by Rob in investor relations and Jim in Corp Comm. Everyone’s OK with it. That’s because it doesn’t say much. No one is claiming, has ever claimed, that one single company can “corner the market on innovation” in some therapeutic area. We all hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near, believe me. So that’s a straw man. And no one’s ever claimed that a company should be a complete autarchy, that it doesn’t need to be “open to the ideas of others”. Another straw man. Neither has anyone proposed that a company should deny that it will find innovation outside its own walls. What was the purpose of this thing again?
Oh, right, it was to advertise Saunders’ fitness to be the CEO of Pfizer after the merger. Well, if part of the job description is rolling out platitudes, answering questions that no one asked, and denying things that no one has asserted, then he’s clearly the man for the job. And who knows, those might be important qualities in a CEO. But this article’s not going to make anyone in the Pfizer labs feel any better this morning.