Pfizer Regional President Nolan Townsend on How Patient Centricity is Vital to Our Future
At the 2018 eyeforpharma event in Barcelona, we were fortunate to interview Nolan Townsend, who now serves as Regional President for North America, Rare Disease at Pfizer. Nolan moved from investment banking at Lehman Brothers to a breathtaking array of roles at Pfizer over the last decade. He has been Senior Manager of Worldwide Strategic Planning, Director of Business Operations for Asia Established Products, Marketing Director for Pfizer Korea, Country Manager for Pfizer Ukraine & GIP Cluster Lead Central Asia and Caucuses, Country Manager for Pfizer Romania, Regional President for Africa/Middle East, India, based in Dubai, and most recently, Regional President for International Developed Markets, Rare Disease.
Nolan considers patients as his most insightful colleagues. Working in rare diseases, he has built a close partnership between patients and professionals, and he values the on-the-ground testimony he gets from people wrestling with those conditions. Only 5% of rare diseases have a viable treatment today, so there’s a long and complicated path ahead to address all the unmet needs in this area. Nolan says that the patient/industry partnership is vital to developing better treatment options.
Much of that investigation involves risk-taking. Nolan says “The more risks you take in R&D, the closer you’ll get to treatments. We have to look in areas where diseases are less well understood. Especially in areas like oncology, we’re looking to deliver value.”
He sees this journey as one that inculcates trust. “Society’s trust is our license to operate.” Part of this is supporting the cost of R&D through the price of current medicines. At the same time, we have to deliver value for both patients and shareholders, a delicate balance. He believes that the two are aligned—that both value propositions will support each other.
We asked him about the contrast between the number of life sciences executives believing that patient centricity is vital to our future—about 90%—and the number who have confidence that we’re achieving that, which is closer to 30%. “We’re here for patients. We’re here to listen, we’re here to learn,” he said. From there, you understand how to build a patient-centric culture. He believes we need to re-engineer processes to include patients in a more active way. He’s working to make sure that people all across the organization—R&D, medical, finance, legal, commercial— understand the struggles of patients, which will inspire us to reach the right goals. “There are certain roles where you’re not typically in touch with these voices, but we have to work to make that connection. Once we see the impact of successful treatment, it motivates and informs us in a significant way.”
Nolan is one of the people driving us toward that kind of motivation—a leader, innovator and creator of a better future.
Author, Engage Rx: The 3 Keys to Patientfocused Growth
Co–founder, The Aurora Project
Jill, HBa, MAdEd, is a keynote speaker, author and thought leader who has authored two books on Influencing in patient-focused ways and co-founded The Aurora Project, a global patient-centricity group. She also serves as Associate Editor of Healthcare Sales & Marketing.