JPM: Pfizer CEO Bourla teases cost cuts ahead—sooner rather than later

SAN FRANCISCO—Every drugmaker has three core units: R&D, manufacturing and commercial. But then there are what Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla calls “enabling functions”—and that’s where he sees room for his company to cut costs.

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“I think there is an opportunity over there to simplify the ways to support our core business,” he said Tuesday during a fireside chat at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, mentioning HR, finance and digital as a few areas that fall under that “enabling function” umbrella.

As far as how big those cost cuts will be—and when they’ll occur—Bourla stayed mum on details. But he did say that “when you do this type of transformation, you better move faster than slower.”

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Pfizer kicked off the process of remaking its image just over a year ago with an agreement to merge its consumer unit with that of industry behemoth GlaxoSmithKline and form a new joint venture destined for eventual spinoff. That “clear exit strategy,” as Bourla termed it Tuesday, is exactly what the company was looking for; before inking the JV accord, it tried unsuccessfully to sell the business off.

Pfizer continued its revamp in a big way over the summer, striking a pact to combine its off-patent drugs franchise, Upjohn, with generics giant Mylan. What remains will be what Bourla calls “the new Pfizer”: a business retaining all of its growth drivers and its entire pipeline.

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From Day 1 after the Upjohn separation, the company will boast “best-in-class revenue growth” with a “relatively levered balance sheet and the best pipeline we’ve ever had,” Bourla said.

If Pfizer does initiate layoffs, it won’t be the first time in recent memory. In October 2018, the New York drugmaker said it would be restructuring to boost efficiency—trimming 2% of Pfizer's global workforce in the process.