Building foundational, long-lasting relationships to accelerate therapies to patients: A Q&A with Pfizer

Mar 07, 2023

An interview with Kathy Fernando, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Pfizer Ignite, Business Innovation Office at Pfizer

Want to learn more about Pfizer’s approach to collaboration and the new Pfizer Ignite program? Register here for the Pfizer Pharma Day® 2023 information & panel session and networking reception on March 28.

What is Pfizer Ignite’s approach to innovation? 

Pfizer Ignite is rooted in a deep understanding of drug development and the unique challenges of biomedical innovation. As a new end-to-end  approach for biotech companies, we leverage significant resources, scale and expertise – alongside a proven track record in the commercialization of breakthroughs – to support biotechs directly in accelerating their creations from preclinical R&D through the development lifecycle.

Through a suite of customized services that includes strategic advisory, research, development, and manufacturing, Pfizer Ignite tailors each collaboration to the partner’s unique needs and stage of the development journey. We offer a variety of flexible agreement structures, which may include fee-for-service, strategic rights and/or equity.

We work exclusively with companies and therapies that have the potential to change lives, are aligned with our priority therapeutic areas and are ready to move from candidate selection through Phase II and beyond.

Ultimately, the goal of Pfizer Ignite is to build foundational, long-lasting relationships with prospective biotech partners to help enhance the value of their programs and accelerate the development of breakthrough therapies to the patients that need them.

Why is Pfizer working with MassBio to support emerging companies? 

The pandemic expanded our realization that many of today’s widespread and disruptive global healthcare challenges are too great for any one organization to tackle alone. They require innovation—and to be a true innovator, we believe one needs to be a world-class collaborator.  Perhaps the greatest example of innovation through collaboration is the partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech that brought forth the first COVID-19 vaccine. Each company brought something distinct and complementary to the table—and because of that we achieved the extraordinary.

We recognize that the biotech ecosystem is a major engine of innovation and growth, and an increasing percentage of breakthrough therapies are coming from the biotech sector.  Since 2018, the number of biotechs has increased by 35% and small biotechs contributed meaningfully to or developed 55% of the top 20 drugs in 2021 compared to only 15% in 2002.

As part of our efforts to support biotechnology innovation, we have introduced Pfizer Ignite, a new end-to-end approach, which leverages Pfizer’s significant resources, scale and expertise – alongside a proven track record in the commercialization of breakthroughs, – to support biotechs directly in accelerating their creations from preclinical R&D through the development lifecycle. With a long and successful history of bringing innovative biotechs together, MassBio will help introduce Pfizer Ignite to this audience.

Which therapeutic or R&D areas does Pfizer want to partner on? What types of companies or innovators does Pfizer want to partner with?

We focus on compelling, innovative external science, which has the potential to lead to real breakthroughs for patients, and where we can add substantial value.  We are focused largely in therapeutic areas and platforms where we have the scientific resources and acumen to select the most successful programs. Pfizer Ignite is focused on enhancing highly innovative science in pre-clinical through Phase 2 settings to lead to transformative value creation, such as a traditional BD deal.

Our areas of interest include, among others, oncology, inflammation & immunology (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease and medical dermatology), cardiovascular/metabolic disease, and hematological disease. In addition, we welcome engaging with companies with technology platforms that have the potential to fuel multiple products, such as mRNA, PROTACs and gene editing.

How will Pfizer help emerging companies grow their businesses? 

Each collaboration is tailored to a company’s unique needs and stage of the development journey, and we offer a variety of flexible agreement structures.

Pfizer Ignite offers many areas of differentiation including our unique end-to-end capability offerings, our track record of accelerating development timelines, our expertise across the entire development lifecycle and our flexibility on agreement structures. As veteran drug developers, we’re able to offer biotechs operational assistance supported by decades of in-house R&D, manufacturing, clinical and commercial experience. 

Pfizer is the industry leader in FIH-to-approval success rates, which reflects the rigor, efficiencies and capabilities we bring to the table in designing and executing preclinical and clinical studies. Our track record is a key differentiating factor that we aim to bring to all of our Ignite collaborations.

Compared to 2018, Pfizer’s internal Ph2 success rate is now over 50%, leading the industry, and we are developing medicines 33% faster (6.3 years from FIH-to-approval).

In one Pfizer Ignite collaboration, we helped our partner identify ways to consolidate a Ph 2 clinical development program into a more meaningful and relevant data generation plan by reducing the number of cohorts. In the end, the program time was reduced from 5 to 3 years, but more importantly it became a more valuable program with a robust planned data package.


Kathy Fernando is a Senior Vice President & Global Head of Pfizer Ignite within the Business Innovation Office at Pfizer. The organization is focused on supporting innovative biotech companies to advance their science and programs. Kathy’s prior roles at Pfizer include Head of Worldwide Research, Development & Medical Operations and Head of mRNA scientific strategy. In those roles, she focused on strategic initiatives to identify and evaluate new scientific areas of focus, increase the value of the R&D portfolio and enhance R&D productivity. Kathy also led efforts to develop an ambitious and holistic scientific strategy for mRNA across therapeutic areas as well as a well-orchestrated plan for execution.

Prior to joining Pfizer, she worked in management consulting, most recently at Deloitte.  During her time in consulting, Kathy helped address diverse business needs for pharmaceutical and biotech companies in the US and EU markets in areas such as therapeutic area strategy, product launch and lifecycle management. Kathy has strong strategy and operations expertise across the R&D and commercial space and has navigated complex strategic challenges across 10+ products launches.

Kathy has a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her Ph.D. thesis focused on mRNA vaccine and HIV vaccine development. She has a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from the Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T) in Kharagpur, India. She lives in New York City with her husband and two young boys. She has a passion for discovering new restaurants and playing tennis, a necessary counterbalance.

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