Pfizer to replace longtime CEO Read with veteran Bourla


New York: Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Officer Ian Read will hand over the reins of the largest US drugmaker to veteran insider Albert Bourla in January, after eight years at the helm, in the backdrop of increased scrutiny over drug pricing.

Under Read, a Scot who joined the company in 1978, Pfizer has weathered patent expirations of several blockbusters, including cholesterol drug Lipitor, through dealmaking, expansion in emerging markets and cost cuts. 

The company also won 30 approvals from the U.S. health regulator during his tenure. Read, however, failed to pull off two high-profile mega deals.

Pfizer walked away from buying British drugmaker AstraZeneca in 2014 as the deal met with opposition from both countries over jobs and corporate tax maneuvers.

A move to acquire Ireland-based Allergan Plc in 2016 was scuttled after a decision by the Obama administration limited benefits of a tax inversion deal.

“Now is the right time for a leadership change and Albert is the right person to guide Pfizer through the coming era,” Read, who will become executive chairman, said. 

Shares of the drugmaker, which have risen about 160 percent since Read took over as CEO in December 2010, were trading up nearly a percent at $44.42. 

Bourla, 56, was appointed chief operating officer at the start of this year and was widely seen as the leading candidate for the top job. 

Before becoming COO, he led the drugmaker`s Innovative Health business, which recorded revenue of $31.4 billion in 2017. Pfizer brought in $52.5 billion in overall revenue in 2017.

“This looks like a well-considered transition, thus I`m not convinced it will herald a major change in strategic thinking, particularly as Ian will still stay on as chairman,” Berenberg analyst Alistair Campbell said.

The appointment comes at a time when the Trump administration has been pressuring drugmakers to lower prescription costs. 

After a conversation between Read and President Trump, Pfizer in July decided to defer price increases for no more than six months.

The company, which has been trying to sell its consumer healthcare business for the past one year, is bracing for patent expiration of its neurological disease treatment Lyrica, which raked in $1.2 billion in second-quarter sales.

“The timing of this transition makes sense given Reed`s age,” Edward Jones analyst Ashtyn Evans said.

Last week, rival Merck Co Inc said it would amend a policy to allow its head, Kenneth Frazier, to remain CEO beyond 2019 when he was expected to retire.

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