Pfizer CEO: The End of the 'Blockbuster' Era

We all know someone who's been struck by cancer. At Pfizer, we share the same simple goal as everyone who loves a person battling cancer: to help them live longer and defeat this terrible disease.

That's why we're changing the way we do business. We've created a separate business unit focused exclusively on oncology. This change is giving cancer research the attention it deserves and more resources than ever before.

Our scientists are working in new ways. In the past, cancer research generally focused on detecting a small benefit for large numbers of cancer patients. Today, researchers are looking for a bigger effect in a smaller, more targeted group of patients.

They are doing this through advanced genetic and biologic profiling of both tumors and people. This enables us to learn how different types of cancer affect different people in different ways. By using these highly-specialized techniques, we're aiming to design treatments personalized for the unique needs of individual people.

These changes are leading to important advancements in treatment, many of which we will present to the country's leading oncologists at their annual meeting this week in Chicago. We're especially excited about a potential new medicine called crizotinib. It's in late-stage studies to test whether it can help people living with a certain type of lung cancer, and whether it's safe for them to use it.

Crizotinib targets a specific genetic abnormality that occurs most often in young people who have lung cancer, even though they have smoked only a little bit, or even not at all. The medicine is still in the experimental stage, but it's showing very exciting and promising results.

Pfizer headquarters in New York City.
Getty Images
Pfizer headquarters in New York City.

One of the most inspiring results came in the case of a Kentucky man who had always been an avid cyclist, but who had to give it up when he got cancer. But after taking crizotinib, he has been in remission for a year, and today he's healthy enough to take up cycling again.

Science is making this type of personalized medicine possible for the first time in history. It's also enabling us to work especially hard on some of the most common and difficult-to-treat forms of cancer, such as those that strike the lung, prostate, breast, kidney, and blood. We're conducting more than 20 targeted research and development programs in different forms of cancer.

These programs reflect all the tools that science now makes possible, from chemistry-based small molecules to complex biologic large molecules. We're even studying the possibility of a vaccine for cancer.

This research depends on people living with cancer who volunteer to participate in one of the 100 clinical trials we have underway. When they participate, they help advance scientific understanding of how complex cancers work. It's one of many critical steps toward finding new treatments and even the cures that we all hope to find one day. It takes a lot of courage to join a clinical trial, and we deeply appreciate the people who choose to do so.

Their example shows that finding new treatments depends on collaboration. No company, hospital, lab, or scientist can do it alone. That's why we've formed partnerships with governments, independent medical and scientific groups, companies and advocates for cancer research around the world.

For example, Pfizer has partnered with Abbott Molecular to develop a diagnostic to screen patients with non-small cell lung cancer for the presence of alterations in the ALK fusion gene. Personalized medicine requires a fundamental shift in advanced cancer treatment in which molecular testing upon diagnosis will be required to identify the appropriate patients for the right treatment at the right time.

Collaborations such as these are leading to more treatment options and better care for people living with cancer and the people who care for them.

The changes we're making recognize the end of the era of "blockbusters" - medicines that meet widespread primary health care needs and therefore generate billions in revenues. To be sure, we are still pursuing blockbusters, but we are also focusing on addressing many specialized needs of many smaller groups of people. This personalized medicine approach means new opportunities for people who are sick, for physicians and for our shareholders.

By changing the way we do business, by using the latest scientific advancements, and by working together, we can help find new ways to fight cancer. And more importantly, this can help provide hope to the people we love who live this terrible disease that strikes in so many different ways.

Jeff Kindler is the Chairman and CEO of Pfizer.