REFILE-INSIGHT-Allergan CEO Saunders warms up to drug discovery

Fri Nov 6, 2015 7:17am EST
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(In 16th paragraph, corrects to say "protege", not "portage")

By Ransdell Pierson and Bill Berkrot

NEW YORK Nov 6 (Reuters) - Brenton Saunders, the whiz-kid pharmaceutical executive with a reputation for being wary of the costs of early-stage drug development, says he's open to new ideas from outside and is now warming up to investing in drug discovery if it makes sense for his company.

That could ease concern that if Allergan Inc's "friendly" talks with Pfizer Inc end in a merger, the combined company may not remain one of the world's largest inventors of new medicines.

"I practice a very open minded management structure and learn new things all the time that change my opinion," Saunders, 45, said in a phone interview with Reuters from an Allergan discovery lab. "For instance, when Actavis and Allergan merged, we didn't have any discovery capabilities, but we assessed Allergan's discovery capabilities in ophthalmology and aesthetic medicine and recognize they added a lot of value. Not only have we kept them; we've invested in them."

While sources close to the ongoing negotiations stress that no decision on Saunders' role has been taken yet, the possibility of Pfizer being led or influenced by an executive who has not overseen the full development, from discovery to approval, of a single drug raises concerns among many industry insiders.

Pfizer refused to comment on Saunders' role in any potential deal with Allergan. Pfizer board member Dennis Ausiello, chief of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in an interview that Pfizer would not be Pfizer without drug discovery.

"Innovation is at the heart and core of the business, and discovery is at the heart and core of innovation," Ausiello said, also acknowledging that acquisitions also have an important role to play in Pfizer's drug development strategy.

The New York-based company sees one or more additional new product launches each year through 2022 and plans to have 10 new immuno-oncology drugs in clinical testing by next year.   Continued...