Pfizer's new vaccine R&D leader Anderson has a high bar to reach in replacing Jansen

As Pfizer’s new VP and head of the company’s vaccine research and development, Annaliesa Anderson, Ph.D., has a tough act to follow.

Anderson will replace retiring Kathrin Jansen, who climaxed her career with a brilliant swan song—leading Pfizer’s collaboration with BioNTech which produced the world’s most successful COVID-19 vaccine.

Jansen, who revealed her retirement five weeks ago, also spearheaded the development of Pfizer’s bestselling pneumococcal franchise, which recently launched Prevnar 20.

Anderson has a similar pedigree to her predecessor. She spent the formative years of her career at Merck, where she founded its prokaryotic bio-combinatorial engineering laboratory and established a bacterial vaccine program.

Anderson has been with Pfizer for 13 years, joining when the company merged with Wyeth. As Pfizer’s VP and chief scientific officer for bacterial research and hospital, Anderson was instrumental in Pfizer’s rapid development of its COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid.

“Annaliesa is a world-class scientist with a track record of delivering both vaccines and therapeutics in pioneering new areas of science and where there is urgent unmet need,” Mikael Dolsten, M.D., Ph.D., Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, said in a release.

In her new role, Anderson will lead efforts in developing Pfizer’s portfolio of vaccine candidates against pneumococcal disease, C. difficile infection, meningococcal disease, streptococcus, Lyme disease and respiratory syncytial virus. She'll start in the position on August 1.

“We have a strong pipeline of innovative vaccine candidates and deep expertise across vaccine technologies including mRNA, polysaccharide conjugation technology, and recombinant protein technology,” Anderson said in a release. “With our longstanding heritage in vaccine innovation and contribution to human health, we are poised to continue delivering breakthroughs for patients.”  

Jansen leaves a rich legacy. During her years at Merck, her research was instrumental in developing the company’s groundbreaking HPV vaccine franchise Gardasil.

At the outset of the pandemic, while working on a flu vaccine with BioNTech, Jansen approached the company’s CEO Uğur Şahin about developing a shot to counter the coronavirus. Last year the companies’ partnered vaccine recorded $36.8 billion in sales, more than any biopharma product in history.

“On top of what was already a distinguished career, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is an accomplishment achieved under Kathrin’s leadership and one that helped to change the course of history,” Dolsten wrote on LinkedIn upon the announcement of Jansen’s retirement.