- Longtime Pfizer CEO Ian Read will step down from his role at the beginning of next year, handing leadership of one of America's largest pharmaceutical firms to Albert Bourla, another company veteran who currently serves as chief operating officer.
- Read, who became CEO in late 2010, will remain chairman of Pfizer's board of directors, the company said Monday. The switch will take effect January 1 of next year.
- Under Read's leadership, Pfizer's market capitalization has swelled from about $135 billion in late 2010 to nearly $260 billion now, reflecting an expanding product portfolio as well as the acquisitions of Hospira in 2015 and Medivation in 2016. Yet Read's tenure might be remembered best for the deals that fell apart: attempted mergers with AstraZeneca and then Allergan.
Read, 64, took over leadership of Pfizer a little less than a year before the company's patent protection on its best-selling cholesterol drug Lipitor (atorvastatin) was set to expire.
In 2010, Lipitor earned Pfizer nearly $11 billion in global revenue. Four years later, sales of the lipid-lowering pill totaled only $2 billion — a drop of 80% brought on by fierce generic competition.
Navigating that "patent cliff" fell to Read and Pfizer's executive team. By several measures, Pfizer weathered the blow to revenues fairly well.
Over Read's eight years as head, Pfizer earned shareholders a total return of 250%, the company said, outperforming the S&P 500 index by a wide margin. Share prices have marched steadily higher (although the company has also bought back billions of shares over that span.)
But the transformative merger Read tirelessly sought escaped him. An attempt to buy British drugmaker AstraZeneca for $118 billion fell apart in 2014, and changes to tax rules by the U.S. Treasury scuppered a planned $160 billion merger with Allergan in 2016.
Takeovers weren't the only corporate overhauls Read pursued. Amid calls for Pfizer to break up its business units, the pharma separated its "innovative" operations from legacy business like Lipitor and sterile injectables.
Most recently, Pfizer announced it would recast its portfolio into three units: Innovative Medicines, Established Products and Consumer Health.
Over the next five years, the company hopes that as many as 15 of its current pipeline or recently approved drugs will become blockbuster products. In oncology, an area that Bourla at one point led, Pfizer has a multi-billion dollar franchise in its breast cancer treatment Ibrance (palbociclib) and is bullish on the prospects of several other therapies.
But Pfizer lags its pharma peers in immuno-oncology, a rapidly growing therapeutic area that's widely impacted cancer treatment. And the company's blockbusters in immunology face competition from cheaper copycats as well as branded rivals.
Before becoming chief operating officer, Bourla lead Pfizer's Innovative Health business and was previously group president of the Vaccines, Oncology and Consumer Healthcare business unit.
Pfizer faces other challenges as well. Manufacturing issues continue to bedevil the production network it inherited in its acquisition of Hospira, and the company was publicly criticized by President Donald Trump for raising prices on several dozen of its products this summer.
Although Read reversed course and canceled the price hikes, the presidential attack made Pfizer the latest face of an ongoing debate over the cost of pharmaceutical drugs.
Bourla, 56, will be tasked with leading Pfizer's future and, as head of the second-largest U.S. pharma, can set the tone for the industry as well.