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Pfizer’s Albert Bourla: Vaccine efforts are improving Big Pharma’s reputation

September 10, 2020, 10:20 AM UTC

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Good morning.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CEOs assembled by Fortune and McKinsey yesterday that there is a “more than 60% chance” his company will know by the end of October whether its vaccine works. Pfizer has already vaccinated some 26,000 people in its Phase III trials, and company modeling shows the results should be in by the end of next month.

Bourla spoke on the day he and CEOs of other pharma companies published full page ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal pledging not to deploy a vaccine until scientific studies were complete—an effort to show vaccine timing will be driven by science, not politics. Bourla acknowledged that the late October date, coming right before the election, created the perception of political involvement, which could undermine confidence in the vaccine. “I feel that every day. Many times, I thought, ‘if it could just be a week later…’ But we need to stay the course. If the results come faster, it is better for society.”

The CEO discussion focused on the importance of purpose in business, and Bourla offered the vaccine as an example. “I was amazed by how quickly my organization moved, and I think it was only because of the purpose,” he said. He noted Moderna was the first company to put its vaccine into clinical trials, and Pfizer started two months later. Yet both started Phase III trials on the same day. That kind of fast action “is not what you expect from a big, monolithic, goliath company like Pfizer. I was surprised we were able to do that. The only reason we were able to do that is because we gave them one purpose: Go back and calculate how many people will die if you don’t do it this fall.”

Bourla said the vaccine effort is improving the reputation of his industry, which was in the dumps before the pandemic “not only because of bad players, but also because of us. For years, for example, the CEOs of Pfizer were speaking of how much money we made from Lipitor instead of pointing out how many hundreds of millions of lives were saved by Lipitor. We did it to ourselves.”

Other CEOs who participated in the discussion included Darius Adamczyk of Honeywell, Deanna Mulligan of Guardian Life, John Visentin of Xerox, Stan Bergman of Henry Schein, Doug Peterson of S&P, Penny Pennington of Edward Jones, John Driscoll of Care Centrix and Basheer Janjua of Calculi. All agreed that the role of purpose in business is on the rise. “We know that people who feel purpose at work are four times more engaged,” said McKinsey’s Bruce Simpson. “There is really good science behind this. And in a world where 70% of the workforce is not engaged, that’s a huge uptick, in multiple dimensions.”

More news below.

Alan Murray


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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.