Title: Global President & General Manager
It’s been quite the last few years for Pfizer’s oncology unit, which launched its breast cancer therapy Ibrance into blockbuster territory, snagged an FDA approval for immuno-oncology contender Bavencio and staged a comeback for leukemia med Mylotarg. And it’s also been quite the last few years for Liz Barrett, the global president and general manager of the unit.
“There used to be times of the year where you felt like, ‘OK, it’s really busy during this time,' but ... a lull” came afterward, she said. But now, “there’s never a lull anymore.”
And for Barrett and Pfizer, that’s a good thing. “It’s been phenomenally rewarding, not only to grow the business but to see and feel like Pfizer is a leader in oncology,” she said.
Of course, that’s a tough position to hang onto, especially considering how quickly immuno-oncology is reshaping the field. You have to constantly be up on the data and keeping a competitive mindset, Barrett said, as well as balancing trying to stay on the forefront of innovation and changing science with staying on top of things from a commercial standpoint.
And it’s all part of her job, which she describes as “global responsibility for oncology.” She spends about half her time looking at clinical trials Pfizer’s doing and evaluating the assets in the company’s early portfolio to see what it should advance. “With the way that oncology has been lately, it changes every day,” she said.
In some ways, it’s a long way off from the jobs she had before entering the pharma industry--and in some ways, it isn’t. After growing up working in her family’s convenience store business and holding a number of different positions at Kraft Foods, Barrett joined Johnson & Johnson’s consumer unit.
“I found that the same facets of the business applied whether it was Cool Whip or something more serious, like adult incontinence or oral hygiene,” she said.
But it wasn’t long before Barrett, in search of “something that was more meaningful,” managed to jump to J&J’s pharma division—a move she said “wasn’t very accepted” at that point in time.
Stints with the oncology units at J&J and smaller company Cephalon followed before Barrett landed at Pfizer more than eight years ago. And the way she sees it, being a woman helped her get to where she is today.
“When I’m competing for a role or getting phone calls, a lot of it is about, ‘we want to look at diversity,’ and there’s not a lot of women who have the types of experiences that I do,” she said.
But Barrett is happy to see that changing. “You’d always like more progress, at least from my perspective,” she said. “[Women] think differently and have different things to offer, and a company is better off if you’ve got a diverse set of executives.”