First off: Mark McLellan, former boss of FDA and CMS. The industry loves him; so do politicians. He was even relatively popular among the famously disgruntled FDA staff. But McLellan has just gotten huge funding for his Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform and, as Founding Director, he's not likely to abandon his post at what could be the center of US health policy.
Others qualify for the less-usual category because they’ve spent their careers in research, not development, and because they haven’t had the top R&D job. Michael Dohlsten who runs discovery for Boehringer Ingelheim. “A change agent,” says one recruiter. “He’s just that good.” Likewise, Allen Oliff, GlaxoSmithKline’s discovery boss. Or Marc Tessier-Lavigne, an academic for two decades before joining Genentech in 2003, now playing #2 in research to Richard Scheller.
Indeed, Tessier-Lavigne’s academic career is a particularly intriguing model for Pfizer. If Pfizer "wants to break the mold," says one recruiter, giving a scrub to its tarnished scientific self-image, why not go with an out-and-out academic – which is exactly what Merck and Novartis did in hiring, respectively, Peter Kim and Mark Fishman? Kim’s success at Merck certainly argues for the direction.
So in terms of an academic, why not…Pete Schultz of Scripps, also the director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, a prolific company creator (Affymax, Kalypsis, Syrrx and Ambrx, among others), and—by various accounts—intensely ambitious? Probably not—say headhunters: tough personality for a corporate job.
There are certainly a bunch of young research stars—though our headhunters were unwilling to give us their best ideas here. But there’s a problem for Pfizer with this route: Peter Kim was able to understudy for a few years with the previous R&D boss, Ed Scolnick. Tessier-Lavigne is understudying now. A new young academic joining Pfizer won’t have the same chance since LaMattina leaves in December -- and no internal candidate would want to take a temporary coaching job in the corner office.
So what do we think will happen?
Up to now, Kindler & Co. haven't strayed far from the corporate nest in replacing top commercial and business development management. So it's not likely they'll do anything different with R&D, particularly given the sales job they'll have to do to attract a really capable outsider. Our money's on the top internal candidate, Martin Mackay.