Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
Our honoree: Mike Gladstone
Title: Global president, Inflammation and Immunology, Pfizer
The company’s focus: Pfizer’s Inflammation and Immunology franchise is focused on organic and shared discovery and development programs that expand disease biology and identify biomarkers in three key therapeutic areas — rheumatology, gastroenterology/hepatology and medical dermatology — with more than 15 products in the pipeline.
Gladstone’s biggest wins: Fresh off his most recent role as global president of international medicine at Pfizer, for which he was responsible for an “$8 billion portfolio of medicines,” the 14-year company veteran is ready to tackle his next opportunity: overseeing Pfizer’s resurging Inflammation and Immunology franchise, also known as I&I.
Described as “fun, brilliant, inspiring and competitive” by people who have known him for years, Gladstone knits all of these traits together to drive success in every challenge he encounters.
One of his nominators notes that when Gladstone took the helm of Pfizer’s I&I franchise just over a year ago, “he stepped into a situation that would require all these qualities.”
“The organization had endured a series of setbacks and challenges that had left many of our teammates feeling defeated. Enter [Gladstone], who promptly did what [Gladstone] does best — unlocked his team’s potential and imbued us with confidence in our abilities to succeed. As a leader, Gladstone excels at establishing belief — we often say his title should be ‘chief belief officer,’” the nominator says.
Over the past year, Gladstone’s passion for science and making a difference for patients has racked up big wins, starting with the March 2022 acquisition of Arena Pharmaceuticals, a clinical-stage company focused on immuno-inflammatory diseases. The deal adds therapeutic candidates in gastroenterology, dermatology and cardiology.
“[Arena] hands Pfizer etrasimod, a potential best-in-class treatment in phase 3 testing for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, anticipated to read out in 2022, along with other promising therapeutic candidates for immuno-inflammatory conditions in Pfizer’s gastroenterology and dermatology focus areas,” according to one nominator.
Other wins include several new product and indication approvals in 2021 and 2022, including the eczema treatment Cibinqo, which was given the nod by the FDA in January 2022 for patients whose disease was not controlled by other treatments. Pfizer executives predict the drug could reach blockbuster status.
“I have been focusing on asking targeted questions and being more patient to help stimulate the individual or team to identify their own solution.”
Global president, Inflammation and Immunology, Pfizer
Hot on the heels of this approval, Gladstone threw his support behind an ambitious advocacy program to support health equity in dermatology. The aim of the Every Color is Primary (ECIP) initiative is to create accountability, drive collaboration and “coordinate healthcare professionals, patients, advocates and research communities to support efforts to advance healthcare equity in dermatology.”
His impact: Gladstone’s inspirational reach extends beyond the balance sheet and pipeline. He is known throughout Pfizer as a champion for gender equity and currently represents the company on the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association’s Gender Parity Collaborative.
“[He doesn’t just talk about his beliefs, he backs them up with action. Few people have supported more female colleagues in achieving career progression and promotions than [Gladstone],” says one of his colleagues. “More than a mentor, he is a sponsor who speaks your name in a room full of opportunities. He sees the best in people and is extremely generous with his time, devoting hours and hours to coaching people and instilling in them the confidence they need to succeed. These people end up doing great things and becoming leaders themselves — because Gladstone believed in them and saw their potential.”
Why he’s inspiring: Gladstone is known for being competitive as well as a great storyteller, and for one nominator there is an often-told “Mike story” that resonates through the organization and inspires colleagues.
“At a large meeting years ago, [Gladstone] told the crowd about a long, ambitious bike ride with his teenage son. Overly ambitious, it turned out, in terms of the uphill climb. And seemingly disastrous when a cloudy day unexpectedly transformed into a downpour. But just as they reached the top — ‘peak misery’ he jokingly called it — the rain stopped. The clouds cleared, and they were stunned by a beautiful view. He and his teenage son shared an indelible moment that they never would have had if they hadn’t persevered. Gladstone tells people, ‘Take the bike ride in the rain.’ Persist through the difficulty because you don't know the moments that you will miss if you don’t — there could be something amazing on the other end,” his nominator says.
This anecdote epitomizes the importance Gladstone places on family as well as professional relationships.
“He didn’t let a difficult moment get in the way of bonding with his son, and he treats his employees and colleagues the same way,” his nominator says. “[Gladstone] is incredibly competitive. He wants to win. But even more, he wants us all to win together. He is unfazed by obstacles and makes us believe that we can do whatever we set out to do — bigger than we think we can. Gladstone helps us reach the top of whatever hill we want to climb.”
In his own words: “Innovations in medicine are everywhere and moving at light speed, but some patients around the world do not have access to these life-changing therapies,” Gladstone says. “Only through industrywide collaboration within all sectors of healthcare will we have a chance at increasing the care available to all patients.”