Pfizer weighs sale of Philly-area campus—where 2,000 once worked—as company mulls when and how to bring employees back

Pfizer sign
Pfizer said it's considering selling its facility in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. (Tracy Staton)

Not only do corporations have to determine when to bring employees back into the office after more than a year of at-home work, but how. It’s a decision even major COVID-19 drugmakers are evaluating as they continue to develop and manufacture medicines and vaccines to combat the virus.

Take Pfizer, which said it’s considering the sale of its 1.89-million-square-foot office and laboratory space in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, as the company searches for a more “modern and flexible” workspace for returning employees, The Philadelphia Business Journal first reported Tuesday. 

The New York City-headquartered company has owned the suburban Philadelphia space that it shares with Dow Chemicals since 2009. Roughly 2,000 employees worked at the location before the pandemic, according to the report. 

Pfizer, the first drugmaker to score an FDA emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine late last year, told Fierce Pharma in an email that selling the Collegeville facility is only one of “several options" it's considering. The company is also weighing consolidating and renovating the existing space while working with a commercial real estate team to “understand the interest level in the current site,” the spokesperson said.

“The decision to do so is primarily being driven by the company’s evolving flexible working model, providing employees with greater flexibility to work remotely while still maintaining the ability to connect and collaborate regularly on-site” once pandemic restrictions are lifted, Pfizer told Fierce Pharma. 

The company did not disclose where it would search for a new location if it sold the Collegeville facility. 

Pfizer isn’t the only COVID-19 pharma giant weighing how to incorporate lessons gleaned from at-home pandemic work in years to come. 

RELATED: Novartis pitches in to help produce Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

Novartis, which has signed pacts with Pfizer and CureVac to help manufacture their COVID-19 vaccines, is weighing what to do with its offices as the company plans for a hybrid model of at-home and in-office work beyond the pandemic, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. 

The move will help the Swiss drugmaker tap into new talent pools that weren't reachable prior to the pandemic, CEO Vas Narasimhan told Bloomberg in an interview. The company launched its “Choice with Responsibility” initiative last summer, a multi-year plan that will allow eligible employees to choose how, where and when they work. 

“The global pandemic has accelerated our organizational need to explore new working models and our associates have expressed a strong desire for more flexibility in how, where and when they work,” Novartis said at the time. 

RELATED: Moderna could join top vaccine players by sales this year, CEO says

Like Novartis, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told Fierce Pharma in a December interview that the company will consider how to leverage hard-to-reach talent pools regardless of geography. Business travel will be different moving forward, Bancel said, and the company may now consider some distant job applicants given how effective remote work can be.

Moderna has previously chosen not to hire certain people because of “relocation challenges,” Bancel said, although there are now some new hires involved in the company’s vaccine program that he hasn't met in person.