cracking the whip at wyeth

Topics: Clinical trial, Drug discovery, Pharmacology Pages: 7 (2040 words) Published: October 12, 2013
Cracking The Whip At Wyeth - Businessweek

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Bloomberg Businessweek

Cracking The Whip At Wyeth

Posted on February 05, 2006

When Robert R. Ruffolo Jr. signed on at Wyeth (WYE
) in 2000, his mandate was simple: shake up the drugmaker's mediocre research-and-development operation. He has certainly succeeded. One of Ruffolo's first moves as executive vice-president for R&D was conducting a top-to-bottom review of Wyeth's pipeline. With the date of the meeting looming, Wyeth researcher Steven J. Projan all but gave up sleeping. For five straight days, Projan was so worried about the survival of a novel antibiotic he had been working on for seven years that he slept on his boss's couch and showered in the company gym when he wasn't fine-tuning the presentation for the drug. "There was a lot of fear and loathing about going through that process," Projan says. "Everybody was convinced this was a tool to kill off their favorite project."

SHREDDING IT UP. Since jumping ship at SmithKline Beecham (GSK ) in 2000, the 55-year-old Ruffolo, an avid fan of heavy-metal music, has ripped apart and reassembled Wyeth's $2.7 billion research operation. Among his controversial changes: a series of quotas for how many compounds must be churned out by company scientists. For some of them, having to hit a hard-and-fast number seemed anathema to the complex and at times serendipitous drug-development process.

But Ruffolo held bonuses hostage to managers' meeting that goal. More recently he began studying industries from aerospace to computer hardware manufacturing in a bid to better manage innovation. But don't expect him to steal from the playbooks of industry rivals. "Until recently, this industry didn't have to focus too much on productivity," he says. "The solutions to our problems aren't going to come from our competitors."

Wyeth's efforts to energize its labs reflect a major challenge in the drug business. In recent years the output from big-pharma R&D has been almost universally disappointing. According to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, only 58 new drugs were approved by the Food & Drug Administration from 2002 to 2004, down 47% from the peak of 110 from 1996 to 1998.

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Cracking The Whip At Wyeth - Businessweek

CRITICAL TRANSFORMATION. The reasons are myriad, including a wealth of good treatments that are already available for many diseases and increased vigilance from regulators and physicians on safety. But with financial pressures building as more drugs go off-patent and as payers push back against rising drug costs, pharma companies can't afford to battle that problem by simply throwing bigger bucks at research.

That's why Ruffolo, who took over all of Wyeth R&D in mid-2002, is looking for ways to bring greater efficiency to the innovation process. His goal may not be unusual, but his hard-nosed approach to getting there is.

"A lot of companies at the senior level talk about transformational change, but it doesn't go very far down [the organization]," says Kenneth I. Kaitin, director of the Tufts Center. Ruffolo, he says, has been able to "instill across the entire R&D workforce the notion that it is critical for the company to transform itself."

ROCK 'N' ROLL FANTASY. On the surface, Ruffolo may seem an unlikely radical. He spent 17 years as a researcher at SmithKline Beecham before it merged with Glaxo. At SmithKline he was credited with helping to push through the heart failure treatment Coreg in the face of sometimes stiff resistance.

But despite Ruffolo's Big Pharma pedigree, he's hardly the typical cerebral...
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