By Maureen Martino
When Pfizer was searching for a major acquisition in 2009, it saw a lot it liked in Wyeth–including an established vaccine group that could jump-start its own efforts in that area. Pfizer had a nascent vaccine group was doing research but it didn’t have any products on the market. After the buy, the world’s largest drugmaker found itself with a pipeline of new vaccine candidates and another valuable asset: Dr. Emilio Emini (pictured), a noted vaccine researcher who spent 22 years at Merck doing HIV research and working on such blockbusters products as Zostavax, RotaTeq and Gardasil. After retiring from the company in 2004 to pursue nonprofit work, he joined Wyeth a year later to take charge of the company’s vaccine research.
When Pfizer and Wyeth joined, Emini found himself at the head of the new vaccine division. The combined group now has “hundreds” of employees, and in excess of $3.6 billion in annual sales, roughly $2.4 billion of which comes from Prevnar-13. But the world’s largest drugmaker has even bigger plans for its vaccine division.
“The primary focus right now is on bacterial diseases,” Dr. Emini told FierceVaccines in an interview. “There are a large number of serious bacterial diseases, like strep and staph, that kill a lot of people.” And antibiotic resistance only complicates matters. “Prevnar proved that if you go into the right population with the right vaccine, you will drive the infection out of that population.” The company is hoping to repeat that success with its early-stage shot for Staphylococcus aureus, the leading cause of fatal disease in healthcare settings. The initial focus will be treating adults who are undergoing elective surgery, but Pfizer has its eyes on a big prize when it comes to vaccines in older adults.