Pfizer shifts oncology chief Schmeltz to new strategy role as rare disease head Varma fills in

Executive reshuffling continues at Pfizer.

After four years as global president of Pfizer oncology, Andy Schmeltz is moving into a new role as senior vice president of commercial strategy and innovation, the 19-year Pfizer veteran announced in a  LinkedIn post.

Under the new title, Schmeltz is taking charge of Pfizer's “portfolio strategy and investment decisions,” a Pfizer spokesperson told Fierce Pharma. 

Suneet Varma, who has led Pfizer's rare disease department for the past two years, will be taking over as global oncology and U.S. president at the company.

In his LinkedIn post, Varma mentioned excitement for the new chapter and continued inspiration from his former rare disease colleagues. “I will always root for rare disease, and remember, I won’t be going very far,” he wrote.

Varma has been at Pfizer for 21 years and served as head of a number of sectors including consumer healthcare and hospital business.

The rare disease department is now led by Kevin Sullivan, who is currently global specialty care president, the Pfizer spokesperson told Fierce Pharma.

“Pfizer has made a series of leadership moves within its commercial structure to best facilitate its primary goal, swiftly delivering breakthroughs that change patients’ lives, while also continuing to provide colleagues with opportunities for growth and development,” the spokesersperson said. 

Pfizer's oncology portfolio is in need of some rejuvenation lately. Its flagship breast cancer drug Ibrance is under pressure from newer CDK4/6 inhibitors from Novartis and Eli Lilly. And the drug just failed to extend lives in newly diagnosed HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer in the final analysis of a long phase 3 trial. 

In the hot immuno-oncology space, Pfizer's Merck KGaA-partnered PD-L1 inhibitor Bavencio has basically only managed to carve out a bladder cancer niche. The New York pharma is also late to the cell therapy race—if it can get to the finish line at all—and it doesn't have much in the antibody-drug conjugate approach, which has lately gained steam.

By comparison, Pfizer's rare disease portfolio is thriving. The company's Vyndaqel/Vyndamax franchise in transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis is on a fast-growth trajectory. And Pfizer is in the process of buying out sickle cell disease specialist Global Blood Therapeutics for $5.4 billion, beating out Johnson & Johnson in a bidding war

Varma's and Schmeltz's changes came just as Pfizer has brought on Andreas “Drew” Panayiotou as biopharma global chief marketing officer.  

Editor's Note: The story has been updated with the information that Kevin Sullivan has succeeded Suneet Varma as Pfizer's rare disease president, plus additional comments from a Pfizer spokesperson.