Better Medicines through Health Equity: Talking to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Aida Habtezion

Dr. Aida Habtezion is a chief medical officer for our times. Her perspective is shaped by a life lived across continents and a career in multiple countries, most recently as a professor of medicine, physician, associate dean, and head of her own lab at Stanford University. It’s an experience that gives her valuable insight in a time when global health concerns are also local.

At Pfizer, her work is focused on connecting “the bench”, where scientists develop breakthrough medicines and vaccines, and “the clinic”, where physicians see patients and learn about all the different factors that impact health outcomes. Building that bridge makes for better science and better outcomes for patients, Habtezion says. Investor Insights talked to her recently about her new role.

Investor Insights: You’ve talked about building bridges between the clinic and research teams. How does that work?

Dr. Aida Habtezion: I’m a physician scientist, so I’ve always been interested in how scientific discoveries can be translated to impact clinical care and patient needs.

It is important that we build a strong, efficient way of connecting research with the clinic and vice-versa because clinical observation in practice provides the relevant questions we need to ask in order to direct our research teams and tackle unmet medical needs.

Investor Insights: You recently helped launch Pfizer’s Institute of Translational Equitable Medicine (ITEM) to address some of these unmet needs. What are your goals?

Dr. Aida Habtezion: Our vision for ITEM is to achieve health equity by preventing, treating and identifying disease drivers that disproportionately impact underserved minority populations – not only nationally, but also globally. We recognize in order to better understand individual health needs, our research activities must represent diverse communities and the diseases we aim to address.

I’m excited about ITEM because we use the same scientific, data-driven approach as we do with our pipeline and align it with our therapeutic areas of interest. When we think of our pipeline, there is the research – whether it’s early or late research – development and medical activities. So we are thinking of health equity in a holistic manner, starting from the concept early research and every step of the way to implementation. To that end, ITEM will aim to integrate equity across our end-to-end research and development pipeline.

Investor Insights: That’s an interesting connection between the pipeline and health equity. Can you say more on that?

Dr. Aida Habtezion: I can give you a very simple example: let’s say for individuals who have low socioeconomic status. In this environment, healthy eating might not be possible, or they don’t have access to good food, nutrition, and exercise. So obesity affects these patients. But obesity also plays a role in terms of how therapies function. You see that this environment can interplay with biology. Environment impacts biology. We need to have that equity lens in terms of when we are thinking of diverse populations as we bring these breakthrough vaccines and medicines to patients.

Investor Insights: Clinical trials have been in the news a lot in recent years. For the layperson, can you explain why it’s so important to make trials diverse?

Dr. Aida Habtezion: Factors such as race, ethnicity, age, sex, cultural background can really impact how different people respond to the same medicine or vaccine. This is why diversity among trial participants is important. The more diverse a group of clinical trial participants, the more we can learn about the safety and efficacy of potential medicines and vaccines for people who have characteristics like those of participants in the clinical trials.

Knowledge sharing is important in this area and we published baseline data on our clinical trial diversity, which is the beginning of the journey of transparency on our progress and future efforts. We plan to continue to analyze our own data and encourage others to as well.

Investor Insights: Does this approach ultimately create better medicines and vaccines?

Dr. Aida Habtezion: I think the more inclusive we are, the more we are able to target our vaccines and medicines and have an even greater impact.

Investor Insights: It seems like we’re at an inflection point in making impact in these areas.

Dr. Aida Habtezion: We were going towards that path, but certainly so many things have been accelerated. I think the pandemic, as challenging as it has been, there have been also opportunities for us to do things better. We are very fortunate because we have great resources in our talent and people to really address crucial unmet medical needs to make our breakthroughs transformational for patients.

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