Life and Lipitor: Pfizer's Traci Medford-Rosow

Feb 09, 2016
Volume 36, Issue 2

Traci Medford-Rosow is a practiced patent litigator with a life story that defies the insider technicalities of a profession that few people understand. Her new book, Inflection Point: War and Sacrifice in Corporate America, begins as a careful, step-by-step exposition of the biggest drug patent litigation case in history but ends up as something much more than that: a rich, often messy journey of personal discovery that, in the telling, exposes the sharp edges that underlie career success in big Pharma.  

Medford-Rosow’s story challenges the idea that the route to the top, as Pfizer’s SVP and chief IP counsel, is paved by superior intellect and the right background and connections. 

Medford-RosowBrainpower? Academically, Medford-Rosow had the right stuff but her greatest achievements in the courtroom were propelled by the gut instinct—that shock to the solar plexus—you don’t find in a legal tome. “I see patent litigation as the place where science and art come together,” she affirms. 

A nurturing family life? Not if you include a distant, abusive mother who ended her life just six weeks before her only daughter’s wedding. 

A supportive work environment marked by an absence of gender bias? Medford-Rosow spent four long years in her first assignment at Pfizer: in the HR department, helping set up the company’s first employee assistance program. It was a chance encounter with then CEO Ed Pratt that got her that coveted entry level position in the legal department. After that came another serendipitous series of “lucky breaks.” All in all, it was an all-too-familiar female career trajectory eerily dependent on the random kindness of men who’d already made it.  

Great mentors? In addition to Pratt, the author counts only one, her predecessor as chief patent counsel, Peter Richardson, an unflappable British expat 13 years her senior, who was sidelined during some of Medford-Rosow’s most productive years with a rare cancer that he managed to defeat despite low odds of survivals. 

Notably, the 60-year-old author also had to cope with an endless series of health problems, many stemming from her years as an overachieving competitive swimmer. It was an unwelcome accompaniment to her long courtroom hours on two continents defending the patents that gave Lipitor its distinction as the first modern medicine to surpass $10 billion in annual sales.

Overall, however, Medford-Rosow’s memoir takes a positive view of the biopharmaceutical industry and especially the unheralded characters who discover, develop, and defend its innovations. Not that the task is easy,  she said in a Jan. 19 interview with Pharm Exec. “The book is really a series of lessons about the struggle of the individual and group against adversity and the triumph over it—in work and in life.” 

Interspersed with the personal anecdotes is a well-documented analysis of the roller coaster ride to ultimate success in a battle that saved the Lipitor patents against the high-profile infringement case launched in January 2003 against Pfizer by one of India’s biggest generics producers, Ranbaxy. All told, the litigation lasted nearly a decade and cost Pfizer tens of millions of dollars in legal costs. Most important, Ranbaxy’s campaign damaged Pfizer’s reputation while distracting company management from the critical task of advancing the R&D pipeline to connect sick patients with disease-busting products. Medford-Rosow bluntly calls it a hollow victory. “In the end, what we achieved was to preserve only what had been ours in the first place.” 

Now that her story has been published—Inflection Point was Amazon’s top-selling new release in both the pharmaceutical/biotech and patent/trademark categories—Medford-Rosow is trying out another new role: as a policy advocate. “We need a new collective effort to reform and revive the US patent system,” she says. “The current road map, the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act, is outdated and no longer works as a balanced compromise between the interests of innovators and generics—neither side today is well-positioned to gain from this procedure.” 

And the starting point for change is found in her book. “No one who reads my story can leave it without sensing a perfect storm may be brewing in the commerce of new drug innovation, but there is a larger lesson at work, too: in every bad experience there is a rainbow of redemption—with perseverance comes the hope for a better future. That’s the life blueprint I am working off now.”

 

William Looney is Pharm Exec’s Editor-In-Chief. He can be reached at [email protected]

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