Chasing Breakthroughs in I&I: Pfizer’s Mike Gladstone

Pfizer’s Mike Gladstone, who previously served as Global President of Internal Medicine at Pfizer and whose career spans more than 25 years in pharma, recently moved to the role of the organization’s Global President of Inflammation & Immunology (I&I).

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine may have the spotlight, but the company expects its robust Inflammation & Immunology (I&I) pipeline to play a central role in its pledge to launch 25 new drugs by 2025. I&I has multiple late-stage assets across its medical dermatology, gastroenterology, and rheumatology franchises that will drive both near- and long-term revenue growth, while offering new options to the millions of patients who suffer with these often ‘invisible’ conditions. In the US alone, they include 2 million living with inflammatory bowel disease, 3 million living with rheumatoid arthritis, and 32 million living with eczema.

Pharm Exec sat down with Gladstone to discuss how Pfizer is addressing the unmet need in I&I, the company’s legacy of leadership in I&I, and how its relationships with patients is fueling the quest for breakthroughs over ‘me too’ incremental improvements

PharmExec: You recently transitioned into the role of Global President of Inflammation & Immunology at Pfizer from your prior role as Global President of Internal Medicine. What can you tell us about what drives the I&I business, and what excites you about leading it?

Mike Gladstone: I joined a team full of people who are driven to help the millions of patients living with complex, chronic inflammatory and autoimmune conditions who are somehow still underserved by available medicines. I’ve heard countless stories of the heartbreaking losses they experience – unseen burdens layered onto physical symptoms that many of us fortunately have never even had to consider. Loving partners who miss out on handholding or a stroll because of the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Or that teenager so ashamed by her alopecia that she withdraws from social life. We have a tremendous opportunity to alleviate the psychological and financial burden of disease while, of course, alleviating the physical symptoms we aim to treat.

There’s a growing number of people around the world being diagnosed with inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. How is Pfizer working to address this significant unmet need? 

We are thinking ‘beyond the pill,’ and considering the entire patient experience. It means putting our understanding of the biology of these conditions and complexity of treating them into the context of the day-to-day, debilitating impact on the lives of patients and their caregivers. We know that patients need more than incremental improvement. They need real, tangible progress that will help them live more freely and fully.

There’s no such thing as a single medicine that will work for everyone with an inflammatory or immunological disease. We know each person is different, so we work to understand the broad range of patients just as much as the many ways disease presents in them and impacts them. And then what we can do is purposefully match the mechanism to the condition to produce treatments that make the greatest impact on patients. We also know that women and people of color can face different barriers in managing their conditions so we are committed to providing supportive solutions for all people living with I&I conditions. We are advancing the broadest and most diverse pipeline of candidates with the goal of offering choices that are accessible and effective for all patients who need them.

What sets Pfizer’s I&I business apart from other companies?

Equally as important to our research and development is the work that we put into developing relationships with the patient community to expand awareness of these conditions, and provide insight into what it’s like to live with these diseases. For example, we know that 65 million people across the globe1 suffer from atopic dermatitis, but even with multiple treatments available, most of them don’t reach what we consider “clear” or “almost clear” skin at the 16-week mark.2 Consider what that could mean for a person’s psychological health when they are literally wearing their condition on their bodies.

One such experience belongs to a young boy, who was removed from a flight after a fellow passenger wrongly assumed he had an infectious disease. I think about his parents trying to keep his symptoms under control, and it breaks my heart. Despite their best efforts, his treatments became ineffective for him. Their experience on that flight also illustrates the real need to continue efforts to build understanding and reduce the stigma often associated with chronic skin conditions.

So we factor the most pressing needs of patients into every step of our development process. And we continue to work closely with researchers, advocates and healthcare professionals to deepen knowledge, dispel misconception and drive forward real breakthroughs that can deepen the difference our medicines bring to patients.

What are you most looking forward to achieving for Pfizer I&I?

People get into this industry because we all want to affect a real, positive change in the lives of patients. These patients in particular need so much from us. I know I can achieve this personal goal by working with my colleagues across the business, who share my desire to bring transformative medicines and new hope to millions of patients. We have one of the industry’s leading I&I pipelines, targeting multiple immunomodulation mechanisms across 13 diseases. Our pipeline has the potential to deliver several breakthroughs by 2025, including a first ever FDA-approved therapy for alopecia as well as a potential a first oral therapy for vitiligo.

You represent Pfizer on the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association’s Gender Parity Collaborative. Tell us about Pfizer’s commitments in this area, and diversity, equity and inclusion more broadly. How is that influencing the way you lead Pfizer I&I?

Gender parity, diversity and inclusion, and general equity in the workplace should be table stakes in 2021. Our participation in the HBA Gender Parity Collaborative is a point of pride, and a group we continue to learn from as we develop internal and external policies.

Building a culture that reflects the diverse backgrounds, skills, experiences and points of view of the patients we’re working to support has never been more critical, and as a leader, I’m responsible for it. Many immunological conditions disproportionally affect women, and their voice must be heard at every step of the way — from research and development to how we bring new treatments to market. That is the framework influencing the way I lead the business.

What are some of the ways the pandemic has impacted your working life, and what lessons or new habits will stay with you?

On a personal note, the pandemic has reminded me about the importance of personal connections. I joked with colleagues that after the first few days of lockdown, my body had literally fused to my chair because, where would I go? Then I began to change my perspective, and I realized I could still continue my practice of having coffee with colleagues virtually, or take daily “commutes” in the form of walks around my neighborhood. Keeping this perspective on what’s most important — our people — will stay with me. In some ways, virtual work has helped us get to know each other better by seeing our colleagues in a different light, with kids playing and dogs barking in the background. We have had to adapt to each other’s professional and personal needs, giving each other space and an ear when needed. I’ve learned to be more attuned to the quiet ways our friends, family and colleagues “ask” for what they need. I think we’ve all become more empathetic and authentic as the lines blurred between work and home. It is something I definitely will hold on to. And not only for the benefit of my day-to-day work and personal relationships, but as I think about our customers and all of those people out there who are waiting for real breakthrough technology and treatment. There is a lot of hope on the horizon.

Notes

1. Silverberg, Public Health Burden and Epidemiology of Atopic Dermatitis, Dermatol Clin 35 (2017) 283–289.; PFE projections for peak.

2. Accessdata.fda.gov. 2017. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Dupixent (dupilumab) package insert. [online] Available at: <https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2020/761055s020lbl.pdf>