Woman With a Mission: Pfizer's Lisa Egbuonu-Davis - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Woman With a Mission: Pfizer's Lisa Egbuonu-Davis


Pharmaceutical Executive

Lisa Egbuonu-Davis, MD, vice-president of global outcomes research and medical services for Pfizer, is determined to improve global access to necessary medicines.

She may be the most efficient woman you'll ever meet. Ninety seconds after a phone call requesting her to send a list of names and a resume, an e-mail with the goods was on my computer screen. She created the letter and attached the documents as we spoke!

"I like multitasking," she says simply.

With that kind of efficiency, it's no wonder she was able to earn a medical degree, a masters in public health, and a masters in business all by the time she was 30. Now at 42, she's vice-president of global outcomes research and medical services for Pfizer, the largest pharma company in the world.

It's difficult to summarize the work she does because it extends across many areas of the industry. But Davis' basic function is to develop and implement research strategies that contribute to pricing and marketing tatics worldwide by assessing potential investments in pharmaceutical products and health management programs.

As she puts it, "Industry keeps saying that pharmaceuticals are the most cost-effective part of healthcare products. My job is to show them the money, show them where, and show them how."

A secondary role she developed for herself is a medical liaison, establishing relationships with, and product support from, clinical trial physicians. Her overriding personal goal-one that has determined all her academic and career choices-is to increase access to medicine on a global scale.

Despite the weight of her responsibilities, Davis' voice carries a childlike enthusiasm and her laughter is contagious. "My family had expectations that their children would do well in school, so we spent a lot of time doing well in school," she recalls fondly. Under such pressure, some kids would rebel. Davis excelled. "I loved school. I had a great time and was always creating and building new things."

When it came time to choose a college, Davis says, "My father encouraged me to go to MIT. When the postcard came in the mail and my SAT scores were good, he said that we were applying, so we applied."

Davis loved college, too. "One of the fun things about MIT is that they have a lot of undergraduate research opportunities," she says. "They help you develop broader social skills, and they really encourage you to do many different things." Under such conditions, Davis' managerial skills blossomed. "I ran a tutoring program for the Black Student Union and helped start a program called Strategy for Academic Success, which was a combination of study skills, political skills, and how to handle work that needs to be done in a group."

The most significant opportunity she had was volunteering at Massachusetts General in the children's ward. Until then, she'd been leaning toward science or engineering. The hospital experience convinced her that what she wanted to do was combine a health background as a physician with training in how to run big healthcare systems.

The next logical step was Johns Hopkins University, which offered a combined program for a medical degree and a master's in public health (epidemiology). There, working with senior researcher Barbara Starfield, Davis submerged herself in pediatric research on the effects of social status on health. Her pediatric residency was completed at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia where she worked with senior researchers in pediatrics and health service.

From there, Davis attended the University of Pennsylvania on a Johnson Clinical Scholar Fellowship and earned an MBA in healthcare management from Wharton in 1988. During that time she also worked as a consultant to New Jersey's Health Department and had the opportunity to contribute to the design of a program for pediatrics and prenatal care that expanded Medicaid services. Through all those years and esteemed schools, Davis had her heart set on managing a large healthcare system.

Her segue into pharmaceuticals was the result of serendipitous confluence of geography, networking, and matrimonial compromise. She was heading a handicapped children's program for the state of Ohio, when she met her future husband, a lawyer and native of Indianapolis. After they married, they started looking for work in each other's locations. Davis then heard from a colleague at Eli Lilly & Co. that the pharma industry was hiring health services researchers in the area of pharmacoeconomics.

Lilly hired Davis as a clinical research physician in the anti-infective group, but she had her own agenda. Speaking for a group of Lilly researchers, she says, "We sold the concept of health economic research and its value to the company in terms of getting pricing and formulary acceptance."

Trying It All

It wasn't enough to create her own niche and run with it; Davis wanted to learn everything she could about the industry. After designing "some interesting studies for antidepressants and managed care," Davis put her MBA to work and joined the marketing team for a while. She took a temporary field sales position and for three months covered the territory of Anderson Indiana.

Davis is as exuberant about that experience as she is about all her learning opportunities. "I really saw how the materials I was developing were being used," she says. "I also saw what the life of a representative is really like and what worked with different types of practicing clinicians. I had a really good time, and I gained a lot of insight into why certain material is useful or not useful."

Davis also worked as a product advisor just long enough to realize that she wanted to move into management and be a "bridge across medical, marketing, and sales." In the meantime, she says, "Other companies kept offering higher levels, faster-and that's the bottom line." When Lederle offered her the position of vice-president of public and government affairs, in which she would manage 20 people, including their state lobbyist, she said yes.

Convincing her husband to give up his practice and head back east with her took some doing, but he supported her career and took a leap of faith that the move would be good for him as well.

As it turned out, American Home Products bought Lederle only 17 months later and eliminated Davis' department. But she had time to prepare. "Once I saw the financials," she recalls, "and knew where things were headed, I started networking." Pfizer came through with a job offer, and she started there the day after the AHP takeover.

At Pfizer, Davis has had the opportunity to build a health economics group from the ground up. She started as the medical director of its US pharmaceuticals group in 1994 with only five employees in her department. In 1997 the company merged its international and US businesses, and Davis was promoted to vice-president of global outcomes research. In that role, she now manages a budget of $43 million and a staff of 75.

She also heads a medical service liaison group with a budget of $34 million. The group consists of 100 regionally based doctoral-level clinical researchers who act as liaisons to medical and clinical-trial communities. "We put senior-level clinicians back out in the field where they can reestablish the relationships with investigators that you naturally have as a smaller company," Davis says.

Pfizer and Davis seem well matched-both young, yet experienced and aggressive enough to rise to the top. About the company, she says, "I have had a great time because I like being an entrepreneur, and this is the kind of environment that has the resources and the culture to support that."

Even after all she's accomplished, there's so much more Davis wants to do. She plans to develop innovative approaches to research and programs that will help commercialize products and services. But her biggest goals are for the rest of the world.

"There are a number of customer programs that we have developed in the United States that we can globalize but haven't yet," she says. "We are working on it, but you can't just cookie-cut a program that works in the US and move it over to a different country, even one with the same language."

On the Go

Her job often takes her around the world, where she demonstrates interactive disease models that support pricing and marketing issues. For example, a research model she developed showing that treatment with Aricept (donepezil) delayed Alzheimer's patients' entry into nursing homes convinced the governments of Norway and Switzerland to offer reimbursement for the product.

Despite being a busy executive and a full-time parent to an active 10-year-old girl, Davis still finds time to participate in numerous associations and committees and seeks to serve on even more public boards. She views such participation as opportunities to influence and contribute to public health strategies as well as learn from others' experiences.

She also finds time to indulge in her favorite pastimes, reading and exercising. To get it all done, Davis gets up early. "I do really great work between 4:00 and 8:00 in the morning," she says. "That's when I am at peak efficiency." Through laughter, she continues, "But you have to make sure the people who work for you understand that you are not expecting them to answer your e-mails at that hour."

Her secret to success? "Hire good people-at home, at work, everywhere."

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