The Sephardic Jew that Will Save the World – The Story of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla

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In 2020, Dr. Albert Bourla pushed for aggressive timelines in Pfizer’s development of a possible vaccine against COVID-19. Photo Credit: businessroundtable.org

Edited by: Fern Sidman

As the announcement of a vaccine that is 90% effective in preventing the novel coronavirus has dominated the headlines and given hope to people in every corner of the globe, we pause at this juncture to pay tribute to Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Founded in 1849 in New York City by Charles Pfizer, the eponymously named pharmaceutical company is one of the world’s largest of its kind and it ranked 57 on the 2018 Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue. Pfizer develops and produces medicines and vaccines for a wide range of medical disciplines, including immunology, oncology, cardiology, endocrinology, and neurology. Its products include the blockbuster drug Lipitor (atorvastatin), used to lower LDL blood cholesterol; Lyrica (pregabalin) for neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia; Diflucan (fluconazole), an oral antifungal medication; Zithromax (azithromycin), an antibiotic; Viagra (sildenafil) for erectile dysfunction; and Celebrex (also Celebra, celecoxib), an anti-inflammatory drug.

Currently, Pfizer is under the dynamic and innovative leadership of a man who came from humble beginnings and who rose to prominence in the medical field through his remarkable diligence and his tireless desire to help people.

Born in October of 1961 in Thessaloniki, Greece, Albert Bourla was raised in a Sephardic Jewish family. Bourla is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and holds a Ph.D. in the Biotechnology of Reproduction from the Veterinary School of Aristotle University. He left Greece with his wife when he was 34 and since then he has lived in seven different cities, in four different countries.

In 2020, he was ranked as America’s top CEO in the Pharmaceuticals sector by Institutional Investor magazine. He is on the executive committee of The Partnership for New York City, a director on multiple boards – Pfizer, Inc., The Pfizer Foundation, PhRMA, and Catalyst – and a Trustee of the United States Council for International Business. In addition, Bourla is a member of the Business Roundtable and the Business Council.

Bourla began his career at Pfizer in 1993 in the Animal Health Division as Technical Director of Greece. He held positions of increasing responsibility within Animal Health across Europe, before moving to Pfizer’s New York Global Headquarters in 2001. From there, Bourla went on to assume a succession of leadership roles within the Animal Health Division, including US Group Marketing Director (2001-2004), Vice President of Business Development and New Products Marketing (2004-2006), and Area President of Animal Health Europe, Africa and the Middle East (2006-2009). In 2009, he assumed additional responsibilities for the Asia and Pacific regions.

From 2010-2013, Bourla was President and General Manager of Pfizer’s Established Products business from 2010-2013, leading the development and implementation of strategies and tactics related to Pfizer’s off-patent portfolio, (including legacy brands and generics).

From January 2014 to January 2016, Bourla served as Group President of Pfizer’s Global Vaccines, Oncology, and Consumer Healthcare business, where he was instrumental in building a strong and competitive position in oncology and expanding the Company’s leadership in vaccines.

Previously, from February 2016 to December 2017, Bourla served as Group President of Pfizer Innovative Health, which comprised the Consumer Healthcare, Inflammation & Immunology, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Rare Disease and Vaccines business groups. In addition, he created the Patient and Health Impact Group, dedicated to developing solutions for increasing patient access, demonstrating the value of Pfizer’s medicines, and ensuring broader business model innovation.

Bourla became Pfizer’s chief operating officer (COO) on January 1, 2018, overseeing the company’s drug development, manufacturing, sales, and strategy, as stated in a Wikipedia profile. He restructured Pfizer and spun-off the consumer health care business during his tenure as COO. He was promoted to the chief executive officer (CEO) role in October 2018, effective January 1, 2019, succeeding Ian Read.

During his more than 25 years at Pfizer, Bourla has built a diverse and successful career, holding a number of senior global positions across a range of markets and disciplines. Prior to taking the reins as CEO in January 2019, Albert served as the Pfizer’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) beginning in January 2018, responsible for overseeing the Company’s commercial strategy, manufacturing, and global product development functions.

Wikipedia reported that Bourla was one of seven chief executives of pharmaceutical companies who participated in a February 2019 Senate Finance Committee hearing on prescription drug prices in the U.S. In April 2019, he was presented with the award for “Preeminent Greek Leader” of the global pharmaceutical industry by Geoffrey R. Pyatt, in his role as United States Ambassador to Greece, at the Prix Galien Greece Awards ceremony. In January 2020, Bourla assumed the additional post of executive chairman upon Pfizer’s announcement in late 2019 that Read would retire from the position after eight years.

As Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Albert Bourla leads Pfizer in its purpose: breakthroughs that change patients’ lives, with a focus on driving the scientific and commercial innovation needed to have a transformational impact on human health.

In 2020, Bourla pushed for aggressive timelines in Pfizer’s development of a possible vaccine against COVID-19. He determined production of a potential vaccine would begin, at risk, while awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although expected as soon as October 2020. In late July 2020, the company was among top developers of a potential vaccine, in partnership with German company BioNTech, as they entered late-stage trials with mRNA, BNT162b2.

An Associated Press story of November 15th reported that one of the scientists behind the experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer says he’s confident that it could halve the transmission of the virus, resulting in a “dramatic” curb of the virus’ spread.

The chief executive of Germany’s BioNTech said Sunday that it is “absolutely essential” to have a high vaccination rate before next autumn to ensure a return to normal life next winter. He says if everything continues to go well, deliveries of the vaccine will start late this year or early next year.