Pfizer Shifts Leadership In Key Posts

Pfizer Shifts Leadership In Key Posts

Pfizer Shifts Leadership In Key Posts

In one of his biggest moves to turn around Pfizer Inc., Chief Executive Jeffrey Kindler announced last night a leadership change for two of the drug giant's key functions: research and finance.

Pfizer said the longtime head of research and development, John LaMattina, will retire shortly after Pfizer finds a successor for him, a sign the world's largest drug maker is taking seriously its problems in its research pipeline.

Alan Levin, the company's relatively new chief financial officer, also will step down, as the company looks to bring in a finance chief with more visibility and experience on Wall Street. The moves suggest Mr. Kindler, the former general counsel who took the top job last summer, is acting on his promise to "transform" Pfizer into a leaner, more productive company.

Pfizer's main problem is its weak pipeline, which critics say stems from the company's unwieldy size, ingrained mentality and narrow focus on blockbuster drugs. Pfizer, with its roughly $7 billion annual research budget, pours more money into research and development than most. Its most promising candidate, torcetrapib, which boosted "good" cholesterol, died in clinical trials late last year because of safety problems. The drug was Pfizer's best hope for a blockbuster to replace Lipitor, the big-selling cholesterol treatment that loses patent protection as early as 2010.

Dr. LaMattina, the 57-year-old leader of Pfizer's 12,500 researchers, had been a vocal champion of torcetrapib. He has been at the company since 1977. Pfizer is just beginning a search to replace the two executives. "A new R&D head can have a significant impact on the speed with which the pipeline is advanced and products are commercialized," says a person familiar with the matter.

Martin Mackay, currently vice president R&D and head of world-wide development, is an insider mentioned frequently as a possible contender for the top R&D job. But Mr. Kindler, a former McDonald's Corp. executive who got the top job last summer in part because he was an industry outsider, is expected to also look outside Pfizer for a leader, particularly one with experience in the hot areas of biotechnology and vaccines.

Mr. Levin, 45, was the lieutenant to the previous chief finance officer, David Shedlarz, and took over as the chief of finance in 2005 as Mr. Shedlarz's responsibilities expanded.

Mr. Kindler's background may predispose him to look outside the drug industry for Mr. Levin's successor. Through a Pfizer spokesman, Dr. LaMattina and Mr. Levin declined to comment beyond remarks in a prepared statement released last night. Dr. LaMattina, in the statement, said, "With this strong foundation in place, I believe that now is the time for a leadership transition, so that we have the right leader in place to bring our innovative new medicines forward."

In the statement, Mr. Levin said, "With a strong finance organization in place, and after 20 years of service with Pfizer, I feel that now is the appropriate time for me to explore career opportunities outside of the company."

Last summer Mr. Kindler shook up his inner circle, including elevating Mr. Shedlarz to be his main deputy and vice chairman. In January, Mr. Kindler unveiled the first part of a strategy that some investors felt didn't go as far toward the real institutional change they felt the organization needed.

Mr. Kindler also said the company would try to create a more nimble research-and-development structure by centering scientists and businesspeople around nine areas, such as oncology.

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