Six decades ago, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, one of the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical companies entered the Nigerian market and hit several key milestones with its biotech innovations.
Largely known for its business which comprises Biopharmaceuticals; Animal Health; Nutritional and Consumer Health, it could be argued that no pharmaceutical company knows the importance of innovation more than Pfizer which constantly strives to develop better and more effective drugs and therapies to battle the world’s most pressing health problems.
As a company that is at the forefront of pharmaceutical research, Pfizer invested about 7.87 billion U.S dollars in research and development in 2016, attaining the status of world’s largest pharmaceutical company based on pure pharmaceutical (Rx drugs) revenue. Pfizer currently employs approximately 96,500 persons around the world. The highest number of employees at Pfizer was reported in 2009, with almost 117,000 employees.
Understandably, working for a company whose mission is to develop innovative medicines and healthcare approaches for people in need, is hugely rewarding. This perhaps explains why Mark Wagstaff chose to stick with Pfizer, bringing a wealth of experience gained across a variety of pharmaceutical companies and markets.
Prior to his current role, Mark had worked in the emerging markets, primarily in senior roles including general management, business development and project leadership.
What do you consider the main developments and achievements of Pfizer in 60 years of its operations in Nigeria ?
The Pfizer name is synonymous with trust and reliability. We have a relentless passion for quality in all that we do. In the last few years, performance has been steady. We are improving and increasing our health portfolios, slight growth in the number of employees, more collaboration with health care providers, government and local communities to support and expand access to reliable and affordable health care.
What are the key milestones in terms of biotech innovations?
The Pharmaceutical industry is one sector that innovation impacts immensely on the wellness of a lot of people. Over the years, we have developed and received product approvals for more medicines especially in the area of vaccines and oncology. Pfizer is also improving on some existing products in key therapeutic areas for expanded use.
Could you describe some of the interesting parts of the Pfizer drug development process?
Validation; a documented evidence that the manufacturing process consistently produces products that meets set standards. A manufacturing process validation consists of successfully manufacturing at least three full-scale batches in succession, which passes all in-process and product quality attributes.
What’s the hardest part of getting a drug through the approval process?
In terms of product approvals, Nigeria is one of the fastest countries in registering new products. The laboratory analysis takes time due to lack of adequate equipment and knowledge gap.
How do you view Pfizer’s responsibility as one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies?
Everybody in the world needs medicines and Africa needs affordable medicines. We worked with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) to set up their e-pharmacy. It involved the full computerization of the Pharmacy department in LUTH. With this project, the patient flow system can begin to generate timely, reliable and credible data useful for research purposes. Another example is our Trachoma Initiative, to help reduce the bacterial infection of the eye through surgery.
Pfizer has treated over 15 million cases. We also established the Pfizer Scholar Awards programme in support of medical education in Nigeria, to help and encourage students that excel in the areas of pharmacy and medicine. Pfizer is one of the best in this area because we work with not only doctors but also pharmacists.
We have the Pharmacy Academy, we do Cardiovascular Summits and through our online medical information, we give doctors and pharmacists opportunities to know a lot more about our medicines. If we are able to train and improve the knowledge of those who treat patients, we would also have contributed a lot in terms of healthcare in Nigeria. We are now doing a lot more with retail pharmacies in terms of training, because the reality is that some patients go to pharmacies and buy their medicines.
In driving down drug costs, what do you see as Pfizer’s responsibility?
Pfizer will continue to work with government, insurance providers and non-governmental organisations to make our medicines available and affordable. We balance the long- term need for innovation with short-term government and payer budget priorities. We also take different approaches to ensure the broadest affordable access to our medicines, including volume-based prices and patients assistance programs.
On the whole, do you think drug prices are going to go up or down over time, as drugs get better and more personalized?
It is Pfizer’s priority to make our medicines available and accessible to patients who need them. We negotiate with governments and private insurers, often providing significant discounts to initial prices. As with most health and other services, specific agreements are not made public, allowing for competition among suppliers and varied pricing to best meet the needs of each country.
What’s one of the biggest challenges facing the global pharma industry today?
There is still an urgent need to strengthen infrastructure for the efficient management of IP rights, the need to strengthen enforcement through coordination of appropriate agencies and the need to develop public awareness campaigns on the important role of IP for local innovation
What is the biggest trend in the global pharma industry?
Medical technology seems to be the biggest trend in the sector. The relationship between doctors and patients is fast changing due to the advancement in digital technology for health indicators.
A growing number of pharma companies are increasing their efforts in Africa, seeking to secure their share of the next growth market. In your view, what challenges are present in this market?
We are witnessing more pharmaceutical companies that are WHO qualified and are authorised to export pharmaceutical products. This will impact Nigeria’s market and the number of pharmaceutical companies in the economy will grow. On the other hand, considering that majority of citizens do not have health insurance, this might pose a challenge.
How do you forecast the Pfizer business in emerging markets?
Nigeria is particularly attractive for the size of its market with a fast growing population. In the last few years, performance has been steady.
However, we expect the market has a lot more growth in the next few years especially in the area of vaccines, anti-hypertension, anti-malaria, anti-diabetes and anti-infective drugs.
Mergers and acquisitions seem to have transformed the pharmaceutical industry. What’s behind this activity?
Acquisitions by Pfizer is due to diversification of portfolios and exploration of new frontiers.
What are some of the challenging issues Pfizer had contended with in these 60 years?
It’s got to be IP protection issues. Non-effective regulatory framework or policies to enforce the right standards. There are also issues of counterfeits due to our porous borders. So I think there is a strong need for coordinated efforts involving all stakeholders, including governments and patients in fighting the scourge of counterfeit medicines. Inadequate facilities for management of Cold Chain products and lack of standard warehouses to support the products in terms of distribution are part of the issues even though price sensitivity increases competition and supports the demand for low cost products. Pfizer is tackling this challenge by providing in some cases, access initiatives to bridge the cost challenge of innovative products.
What has changed most at Pfizer in its 150 years?
Diversification in portfolios and increased innovation
How did you get into the pharmaceutical industry?
I started my career in the UK as a Diagnostic Radiographer where I worked for a few years before applying for the role of Medical Representative. I had always wanted to work overseas so after obtaining an MBA, I embarked on an 18-year career, still ongoing, outside the UK focusing on emerging markets.