Neil Levine: In Good Company

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Kim Ribbink

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In Good Company By Kim Ribbink Neil Levine has spent most of his career at one company, Pfizer, not only because of the myriad opportunities he has been given at the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, but, he says, because of the people he works with, the company’s values, And its commitment to customers. AAfter 21 years with Pfizer, Neil Levine is as passionate and committed to improving the lives of people who are in need and delivering value to patients and their families as the day he started. From cost accounting to finance to market research to worldwide team leader on a multibillion-dollar brand to focusing on building Pfizer’s new biologics franchise, Mr. Levine now is channeling his years of experience in communicating Pfizer’s commitment to customers in a new direction as senior director and group leader of Ophthalmics and Endocrine Care. “I work with two specialized product teams – Ophthalmics, which includes Xalatan, a glaucoma product, and Macugen, a product in development for treating age-related macular degeneration, and the Endocrine Care team, which includes Genotropin, a leading therapy for the treatment of growth hormone deficiency, and Somavert, a breakthrough treatment that helps people who produce too much growth hormone,” he says. “My role is to serve as a champion for the needs of our customers and their patients and work closely with our brand teams to determine how best to deliver value.” A career in evolution Mr. Levine gained a thorough grounding in business before launching his pharmaceutical career. His educational background includes a bachelor of science degree from the School of Business Administration at the University of Connecticut and a master of business administration degree from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business Administration, Graduate Division, New York University. He also spent a year honing his business knowledge by working as a staff accountant for Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP, a New York-based accounting and consulting firm. What drew Mr. Levine to the pharmaceutical industry after a year in a general accounting firm was working in an industry geared toward improving and saving lives, as well as Pfizer itself and the reputation it had in the business community. “I’m originally from Brooklyn, where Pfizer started, and I grew up in Connecticut where Pfizer expanded to; my family, friends, and I knew a lot about Pfizer,” he says. “We had always heard good things about the company and about its goals of bringing value to its customers, both physicians and patients.” Since joining the company in August 1983, Mr. Levine’s responsibilities and areas of expertise have steadily expanded and grown. “Two of the things that have kept me at Pfizer for 21 years are the people and that we measure our own success by impacting patient lives,” Mr. Levine says. “As a Pfizer employee and as a parent, I see the powerful impact our endocrine care work has in helping children who are unusually small reach their growth potential. We see that therapy, medical devices, and patient counseling are an essential expression of the endocrine specialist’s desire to treat this illness and the patient’s need to grow.” The Business of Success First stop at Pfizer for Mr. Levine was as a financial analyst for the Roerig Division, where he verified and analyzed product sales and expenses, projected unit movement of key divisional dosage forms and products, and recommended enhancements to the division’s financial management system. The skills he acquired there play a major role in his current position in ophthalmics/endocrine care. “The aspects of finance and business that really attracted me were the opportunities to look at things from the perspectives of stakeholders, business analytics, and communications,” he says. This was followed by a year as a financial analyst in pharmaceutical production at the company’s Brooklyn plant, where he gained an understanding of how to estimate costs of producing new products and to bring about changes in the configuration of existing products. Within the year, Mr. Levine had risen to senior financial analyst of pharmaceutical production and then in seven months to financial manager of the Roerig division. One of his key achievements in this position was administering a cost-improvement program that resulted in savings of more than $2 million. The five years he spent in that capacity, in addition to his other positions as a financial analyst, provided Mr. Levine with the skills and understanding to analyze situations and opportunities from multiple points of view. “Within Pfizer we get involved in the business not just from a numbers-oriented point of view; rather we look at business holistically, understanding the needs of different customers who must work together, including payers, referring physicians, specialists, and families,” he says. “This experience has helped me explore issues from a bigger picture perspective to figure out what helps teams and how best to move businesses forward. In the case of specialized care such as endocrinology, the financial needs of payers, the clinical needs of medical specialists, and the financial constraints of patients and their families all have to be acknowledged and addressed.” In 1993, Mr. Levine shifted into a marketing role as manager of marketing and marketing research for the diabetes disease-management team, his first stint in endocrinology. In that role, Mr. Levine developed field and nonfield promotional communications, implemented disease-management programs, and designed field market research, including positioning and pricing analyses. Though the field and position were somewhat different, Mr. Levine says there were far more similarities than differences between this role and his previous positions. “For both finance and marketing research, it’s important to step back and look at the shared business and customer needs, what questions remain unanswered, and what strategies need to be implemented to reach the best endpoint,” he says. Mr. Levine played a facilitating role in launching Glucotrol XL (glipizide), which is indicated as an adjunct to diet for the control of hyperglycemia and its associated symptomatology in patients with Type 2 diabetes. He and his teammates were charged with determining how best to position Glucotrol XL, at what price, and how to create a holistic view of health. “Those were the early days of disease management, and one of the key focuses in diabetes disease management was a shift to treating the whole person, not just a particular aspect of a patient’s health,” he says. “I see the same issues today in endocrinology. A child who fails to grow appropriately may have a number of physical and emotional issues that need to be addressed, just as a person with acromegaly faces the complications of pain and deformity.” Having proved his abilities in both finance and marketing research, Mr. Levine moved into progressively more senior positions, including director of new product development within the diabetes unit, director and team leader of the U.S. alpha blocker team, and director, and later a team leader, of the Viagra major markets team. Untapping Hidden Value Over the years, Pfizer has enjoyed a large number of blockbusters. Aside from the company’s cholesterol reducer, Lipitor, few of the products have enjoyed as much attention as its erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra. The product was launched in 1998 and according to Pfizer has since helped about 16 million men around the world improve their sex lives. More astonishingly, nine tablets are dispensed every second worldwide, the company says. Viagra’s success can be attributed, at least in part, to the smart branding and positioning of the drug, an area in which Mr. Levine participated. As head of the Viagra major markets team, he assisted markets in developing brand positioning, identifying areas of need, determining solutions to market problems, and determining overall global brand strategy. Though much talked about by news broadcasters and talk-show hosts, Viagra’s success is attributed by Pfizer and Mr. Levine to its ability to help patients and physicians recognize the seriousness of erectile dysfunction and finding a language they could use to discuss the condition. His contributions to the Viagra initiative included forming one of the first major markets teams in Pfizer, helping to create the first pan-European disease-awareness campaign, and chairing Viagra’s life-cycle planning subcommittee. Having made his mark on the major markets team, Mr. Levine was promoted to director and team leader of the Viagra worldwide team where he championed brand strategy, including professional promotion and public relations. “My role was to work with the team in determining the strategy for how we would go about doing the branding, assessing the best tactics and vehicles to move the brand forward, and then being there for the team to tackle issues and hurdles as programs were implemented,” Mr. Levine says. As head of the Viagra worldwide team, Mr. Levine also was instrumental in developing unique ways to talk to consumers about erectile dysfunction, such as sponsorship of the European Ryder Cup Team, Viagra NASCAR, and partnership with Major League Baseball. He also helped develop the first global disease-awareness campaign, featuring the internationally renowned soccer star Pele as a spokesperson for erectile dysfunction. “The goal of these initiatives was to help increase awareness around men’s health issues; erectile dysfunction is one such issue, but that’s just one of the issues that men face in caring for their health,” Mr. Levine says. “Drawing people out and giving them hope to face physical problems that impact their lives is no easy task. We face many of the same types of issues in ophthalmics or endocrine care, and our experience with Viagra gives us an understanding that patients have both physical and emotional needs. Their needs give us the energy to work harder to find the right way to convey a call-to-action.” For example, Pfizer’s Genotropin has become among the world’s leading growth hormone therapies by increasing value to the physician and patient through innovations in patient counseling, product design, and data collection. Pfizer’s patient help center, called the Pfizer Bridge, makes sure customers know the company is available to answer patient questions 24/7. The Pfizer Bridge was initially established by Pharmacia to provide patient support assistance to families when an endocrine disorder is present. “The Bridge is a value-added service that we provide to patients and physicians to help them navigate the process of getting treatment,” Mr. Levine says. “That could mean getting them the pen that’s used to inject the drug to helping them through the reimbursement process. It is a way to deliver value and to show the people who matter most – the people who use these products – that Pfizer is committed to helping regardless of the market size. Part of Pfizer’s culture is to look continually for ways to enhance the value of our products and what we can bring to patients.” As therapy injection pens became standard, Pfizer moved toward making therapy friendlier. In the case of the Genotropin hormone injection pen, guidance on the design was sought from an unusual source – youth design firms. The Industrial Design Society of America honored the pen as a winner in its annual industrial design award program as the first such product that can be personalized with charms, colors, and patterns; the pen also can be recycled. Mr. Levine stresses that safety is, of course, the core value upon which all Pfizer products are based. “After 20 years, the company continues to invest in a global patient outcomes database to enable parents to address one of their most pressing concerns – safety,” Mr. Levine says. In the case of Somavert, Mr. Levine is leading the way in redefining the treatment goal for acromegaly. “Through the control of IGF-1 levels in acromegaly patients and efforts around earlier diagnosis, Pfizer is looking to help reestablish control in the patient’s and their family’s lives,” Mr. Levine says. “Our goal with all products is to make that positive difference.” Managing the Mix The amalgamation of Pharmacia into the Pfizer fold in April 2003 opened up new opportunities for the company to include biologics within the product portfolio. For Mr. Levine, it meant a chance to lead a division new to Pfizer and to ensure that division’s success in the overall business. In March 2003, Mr. Levine was named senior director and group leader of ophthalmics/endocrine care, with responsibility for directing the U.S. Ophthalmic, Xalatan, Macugen, and Endocrine Care, Genotropin, Somavert, and Dostinex businesses. (See box on page 52.) “This was an opportunity to integrate new types of therapy into the company’s mix,” Mr. Levine says. “Pfizer is mostly known for blockbuster pills such as Lipitor. Products such as Genotropin and Somavert are specialty biologics, injectable medications that patients can use at home. In fact, Somavert, with its greater than 90% clinical response, is called a breakthrough therapy within the endocrinology community.” Endocrine disorders include conditions such as diabetes, reproduction, infertility, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, obesity/lipids, growth hormone, pituitary tumors, and adrenal insufficiency. Illnesses and complications caused by growth-hormone imbalances such as small-for-gestational age, growth-hormone deficiency, and acromegaly are among the most challenging for the medical community to diagnose correctly and treat successfully. As leader of both the ophthalmics and endocrine care units, Mr. Levine must divide his time according to the needs of the various teams. Among the issues Mr. Levine oversees with the endocrine unit are gathering data from research both in the lab and out on the field, acting as an advocacy group liaison, and ensuring that the information from patients and doctors is delivered to the R&D teams so they are able to address customer needs. Mr. Levine describes his role in guiding the the endocrine unit as one of bringing all the thoughts and ideas together. “My role is to ask the right questions and encourage the team to get the right answers,” Mr. Levine says. “For example, healthy growth doesn’t just mean someone’s child might be small. Growth is a significant medical indicator that can flag gastroenterogical, kidney, and endocrinological conditions. It’s essential that our overall efforts within a therapeutic category represent the interests of the patient and clinical community. We take people’s health problems seriously and find the right language and tools to express urgency. Otherwise, it will be hard for others to take families’ needs seriously.” It was Mr. Levine’s focus on making a collective and group difference in patient education and health literacy that led the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (FAAO), a nonprofit organization, to name Mr. Levine to its advisory board of directors. Serving as an advocate for patient care is a banner Mr. Levine believes that Pfizer colleagues must hold high. One example is the company’s success with the Department of Health and Human Services. Pfizer advocated that people with a rare condition called acromegaly be included in a special government reimbursement program for home-administered therapy. As a result of these efforts, the acromegaly treatment Somavert is now covered under the government’s Medicare Replacement Drug Demonstration. “Though few in number, acromegaly patients and their physicians have critical needs that must be addressed,” Mr. Levine says. “In addition to the Demonstration program, there is a need for more avenues to help patients pay for Somavert. Accordingly, we have just launched the Pfizer Bridge Support Care Program to provide a new source for reimbursement assistance in obtaining Somavert.” Pfizer recognizes the importance Genotropin and Somavert have to patients’ lives. Through science and service, Mr. Levine and his team seek to improve access to therapy to ensure thousands of individuals who need treatment are able to obtain care. Mr. Levine and his colleagues in ophthalmics and endocrine care are pioneering new ground for Pfizer in therapeutic categories and drug modalities that are less traditional avenues for the company. “What we do, how we act, and the values that we have as a company serve as a commitment to the patient and to delivering value to that patient,” he says. “We live and breathe this commitment every day. It’s in our DNA.”F PharmaVoice welcomes comments about this article. E-mail us at Pfizer’s ophthalmic/endocrine products Dostinex (cabergoline) is indicated for the treatment of hyperprolactinemic disorders, either idiopathic or due to pituitary adenomas (tumors). Dostinex was granted approval in January 1997. Hyperprolactinemia is usually caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland that results in excess production of prolactin, the hormone that controls lactation. Genotropin (human growth hormone replacement therapy) is indicated for the long-term treatment of pediatric patients who have growth failure due to an inadequate secretion of endogenous growth hormone (GH); long-term treatment of growth failure in children born small for gestational age (SGA) who fail to manifest catch-up growth by age 2; long-term treatment of pediatric patients who have growth failure due to Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS). In adults, Genotropin is indicated for long-term replacement therapy for those with growth hormone deficiency (GHD) of either childhood- or adult-onset etiology. Macugen (pegaptanib sodium), which received fast-track designation from the FDA, is in Phase II/III trials, for treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic macular edema (DME), both leading causes of blindness. In December 2002, Pfizer announced an agreement with Eyetech Pharmaceuticals Inc. to jointly develop and commercialize Macugen. Somavert (pegvisomant) for injection is indicated for the treatment of acromegaly in patients who have had an inadequate response to surgery and/or radiation therapy and/or other medical therapies. Xalatan (latanoprost) ophthalmic solution is approved to lower eye pressure, also called intraocular pressure, or IOP, in patients with ocular hypertension (abnormally high IOP) or open-angle glaucoma. NEIL Levine living corporate values NEIL LEVINE – RESUME March 2003 – PRESENT. Senior Director, Group Leader, Ophthalmics/Endocrine Care, Pfizer, New York July 2000 – March 2003. Director, Team Leader, Viagra Worldwide Team, Pfizer November 1998 – June 2000. Director, Team Leader, Viagra Major Markets Team, Pfizer September 1997 – October 1998. Director, Team Leader, U.S. Alpha Blocker Team, Pfizer February 1996 – August 1997. Director, New Product Development, Pfizer May 1993 – February 1996. Manager, Marketing and Marketing Research, Diabetes Disease Management Team, Pfizer October 1987 – April 1993. Financial Manager, Assistant Controller, Roerig Division, Pfizer February 1987 – September 1987. Senior Financial Analyst, Pharmaceutical Production, Pfizer February 1986 – January 1987. Financial Analyst, Pharmaceutical Production, Brooklyn Plant, Pfizer August 1983 – January 1986. Financial Analyst, Roerig Division, Pfizer July 1982 – July 1983. Staff Accountant, Anchin, Block & Anchin, New York Education 1982. Master of Business Administration, concentration in accounting, Leonard N. Stern School of Business Administration, Graduate Division, New York University, New York 1980. Bachelor of Science, concentration in finance, with distinction, School of Business Administration, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn.

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