January 19, 2016
4 min read
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OSN talks with Allergan CEO about Pfizer merger, days ahead

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders reveals his hope for the future: 'to shift the conversation from treatments to cures.'

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The impact of a Pfizer-Allergan merger on the world of U.S. eye care is a matter of speculation.

Announced in November 2015, the agreement by the boards of directors of both companies allows for the smaller Ireland-based Allergan to acquire the larger U.S.-based Pfizer, putting Pfizer squarely into the ophthalmic space where it otherwise has a waning presence. The agreement is valued at $160 billion. Allergan’s legacy-rich products, including Restasis (cyclosporine ophthalmic emulsion 0.05%) and Lumigan (bimatoprost ophthalmic solution 0.01%), would bolster Pfizer’s product line.

In this conversation with Ocular Surgery News, Allergan CEO Brent Saunders talks about the importance of research and development (R&D) and the days ahead as the companies prepare for the expected completion of the merger in the second half of 2016.

Ocular Surgery News: Pfizer was in ophthalmology before it exited. How does the re-entry of “big pharma” into eye care change the specialty?

Brent Saunders: Looking at history is probably not instructive for the future. I would not read too much into Pfizer’s exit from ophthalmology in the past other than to say that it felt that it could not be in a leadership position in previous years, where today Pfizer is incredibly excited about the potential and leadership position that Allergan has in eye care, as well as the future growth opportunities, both in R&D and around the world.

With respect to “big pharma” being in eye care, that could be a huge positive that will allow us to access more patients and physicians around the world. In this instance, we will reach approximately 100 additional new countries, and all the physicians and patients in those countries will have a better opportunity to access Allergan’s portfolio of medicines and, ultimately, devices.

From an R&D perspective, the combined company will have a roughly $9 billion R&D budget, so to the extent that we believe we can make a difference in areas of unmet medical need, I think we will have one of the strongest and best resourced R&D organizations in the world.

OSN: How do you see market share growth opportunities going forward for Allergan? What specific therapeutic areas are you excited about?

Saunders: The three areas we focus on today — glaucoma, dry eye and retina disease — are going to continue to be incredibly important to us. Allergan alone has a deep pipeline in those areas, and we will continue to invest in a much larger, stronger R&D organization in those three areas while looking at other opportunities to solve unmet medical need. Even more exciting, though, with a company of this size and scale and level of commitment to innovation in R&D — that being roughly $9 billion in R&D investment — one of my hopes for the future is to shift the conversation from treatments to cures and to really start looking at that over the long term. That is obviously in the future, but it is a promise that I would like to see us go for.

OSN: What else can you tell us about Pfizer’s commitment to ophthalmology, innovation and R&D?

Saunders: Nine billion dollars is one of the largest R&D budgets in the world; Pfizer is one of the best and most resourced R&D organizations in the world. The combined company absolutely will be committed to innovation, science, R&D and medical education in eye care.

OSN: What do you think about pharma-based companies retaining the customer service-based approach that device companies have had with their customers? Do they need to?

Saunders: I think we have to, and that is the challenge for us. I hope to live up to that challenge as part of the new organization. Ultimately, to be successful in a specialty area such as eye care, we need to have that continuous feedback and intimacy with customers. We need to understand where there is unmet need. We need physicians and key opinion leaders to tell us how our medicines can be used in practice and how they actually are being used in practice. We need them to help us understand and sort through various scientific challenges. For us to be a leader in eye care, which is our absolute goal, we need to maintain that intimacy and relationship with our customers in a compliant and legal way, but it is an important relationship.

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OSN: How would you retain those relationships with ophthalmologists?

Saunders: When Actavis and Allergan combined, there was some concern from the eye care community that the tradition and practice of old Allergan would somehow not continue with the new Allergan. I hope that we have earned some trust from the eye care community that we are 100% committed to them, that we will continue to invest in the community, continue to invest in medical education and continue to invest in R&D. I think we have proven that we took all the great things the old Allergan did and tried to make them even better and stronger in the new Allergan. That should be the case in the combination with Pfizer.

OSN: Going back to when Actavis acquired Allergan, you said that you saw the company as a “growth pharma” company. Would that now apply with Pfizer?

Saunders: Yes. Growth is very important to a culture and dynamic inside a company, and we need to maintain that. The reality is that we do have a very deep pipeline of new products at Allergan that will become part of Pfizer, and we will have the ability to expand our reach into 100 new countries. I think the foreseeable future is quite bright with respect to growth and investment in eye care.

OSN: Is there anything you would like to say to the ophthalmology audience?

Saunders: I would express my excitement for what this deal could mean for the eye care community. If done right, and I believe we are up to that challenge, this could bring the types of resource in R&D, the type of focus we have with customers, to a new level. So I urge your readers to keep an open dialogue with us and to point out when we are not meeting those expectations.

Disclosure: Saunders reports that he is the president and CEO of Allergan.