The Perfect Enemy | How the speed of the Covid vaccine breakthrough is changing the way Pfizer thinks about the future
December 3, 2022

How the speed of the Covid vaccine breakthrough is changing the way Pfizer thinks about the future

How the speed of the Covid vaccine breakthrough is changing the way Pfizer thinks about the future  CNBC

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The mRNA technology underlying Covid vaccines was being perfected in the lab for decades ahead of its biggest real-world test during the pandemic, but the actual breakneck pace at which Covid vaccines and antiviral drugs like Paxlovid came through clinical trials and to the market was unprecedented. That’s an experience and speed of discovery that Pfizer hopes to replicate as it looks to the future of vaccine and drug development.

Aamir Malik, who joined Pfizer in August 2021 as chief business innovation officer, said far from any letdown after the huge success of the Covid vaccine, he came into a company where “there was almost an even renewed energy” within the organization after the vaccine success. “Let’s do that again, and let’s figure out what are all the other problems that we can bring this kind of mindset, our resources, our capabilities, to try and solve,” Malik said at the recent CNBC Work Summit.

Tapping into that energy, Malik said, means understanding and learning from the “importance of speed” in the Covid vaccine success story.

“It was very evident in the pandemic because it needed to be solved with urgency, and we’ve taken this concept of speed now and applied it to everything we do,” he told CNBC’s Bertha Coombs. “If we can find a way to take three years out of the timeline of developing a drug which can last orders of magnitude longer, that’s three years faster we can bring a medicine to a patient. And in order to make a change like that requires tremendous ingenuity, but there’s a belief it can be done.”

The same set of factors do not exist for all human disease conditions, Malik said, “but we know it’s possible, so we’re very focused on that in terms of how we make decisions, how do we accelerate the clinical trial process.”

While this may put pressure on employees, it’s pressure to come up with ideas. “It’s not just a matter of ‘lets all of us work harder to get to that same outcome,'” Malik said. “I think what it creates environment for is how do we create very different ways of thinking.”

The traditional model of recruiting patients for clinical trials, for example, has been in place for decades, and has been criticized for a variety of reasons, from general lack of access to representative populations to specific inequities in trial design related to age, gender, race and ethnicity. “Now we are asking ourselves what if we turned that on its head?” Malik said. “What if we were to create partnerships with larger cities, what if we were to take AI and machine learning technology and apply it to this problem. … The pressure is to solve a problem. The pressure isn’t simply to do what we were doing before and work much harder to achieve the same goal in the same way,” he added.

Watch the full interview below with Malik and Pfizer chief people officer Payal Sahni from the recent CNBC Work Summit for more insights on new models for business success and the workplace.