Pfizer Creates Operating Chief Role -- Update

By Jonathan D. Rockoff Features Dow Jones Newswires

Pfizer Inc. named executive Albert Bourla to a newly created position of chief operating officer, putting him first in line to succeed Chief Executive Ian Read at the helm of one of the world's largest drug companies.

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In the new role, which takes effect Jan. 1, Dr. Bourla will oversee all sales, strategy, manufacturing and later-stage drug development at Pfizer. Drug research, financials, compliance and human resources will keep reporting to Mr. Read.

The moves, while putting 56-year-old Dr. Bourla into position to become Pfizer's next chief executive officer, doesn't establish any timetable for a succession, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Read, 64, who is nearing his eighth year as CEO of Pfizer, still enjoys the job and is "in no rush to move out," but wanted to make sure there was an orderly plan for his eventual replacement, the person said.

The person said the company wanted to avoid the kind of tumult that accompanied Mr. Read's elevation to the top job, which was announced on a Sunday night after Jeffrey Kindler abruptly and unexpectedly announced his departure citing the demands of the job.

Mr. Read said in a statement that adding an operating chief "will enable me to spend more time focusing on the company's long term strategic direction, ensuring continued R&D productivity and engaging with government policy and industry leaders on key issues facing the future of the health-care industry."

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Dr. Bourla wasn't immediately available for comment.

The New York City-based drug company has been in a state of transition under Mr. Read. The past several years, the company has been facing lost sales as key products, like the cholesterol pill Lipitor, have lost patent protection and begun facing generic competition.

Meantime, Pfizer has been trying to focus the business on prescription drugs, jettisoning units that sold animal-health and other products. Pfizer is now examining whether to sell or spin off its last remaining outlying unit, which sells Advil pain medicine, Centrum vitamins and other consumer-health items.

During last month's earnings report, Mr. Read said Pfizer was starting to turn the corner toward increasing sales, as it prepares for the potential approvals of up to 15 possible blockbuster drugs.

Yet many analysts say Pfizer will need to do a big deal to recapture the heady growth that made it a Wall Street darling during the 1990s. Management has been paying close attention to Republican efforts in Washington to pass corporate tax reform, which could pave the way for Pfizer to bring back billions of dollars in profits made overseas and deploy those funds toward a deal.

Dr. Bourla has been overseeing Pfizer's portfolio of cancer, heart and other innovative drugs, the company's key source of growth. He has played key roles in the successful launches recently of the Ibrance breast-cancer drug, Eliquis bloodthinner and other new therapies, and is widely admired around the company for his friendly, encouraging style.

The promotion will trigger a larger management shuffle. John Young, who had been heading Pfizer's business selling biosimilars, generic drugs and legacy products, will take over Mr. Bourla's portfolio.

Angela Hwang, global president and general manager for Pfizer's inflammation and immunology business, will succeed Mr. Young.

Write to Jonathan D. Rockoff at Jonathan.Rockoff@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 13, 2017 11:48 ET (16:48 GMT)