Pfizer Pearl River site focusing on next generation of vaccines
Located less than 30 miles from midtown Manhattan, the Pearl River site serves as Pfizer’s global Vaccine R&D headquarters and is home to over 800 colleagues. The site is well into its second century as a New York area innovation center that impacts healthcare around the world. Today it is focusing its efforts to apply leading-edge science towards helping fight COVID-19 and bring the next generation of prophylactic and viral vaccines to vulnerable people of all ages, including newborns. The site expanded its Vaccine Research & Development workforce by over 100 new positions in 2019 and is continuing to grow this year.
The potential of maternal vaccines
Pearl River is one of nine major global research and development sites for Pfizer and the primary location for the company’s global Vaccine R&D work. Among the most advanced vaccine candidates under development at the site are maternal vaccines to confer protective antibodies to newborns against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and Group B streptococcus (GBS).
“Maternal vaccines have potential to protect the most vulnerable, newly born infants when they are susceptible to infectious diseases,” said Kathrin Jansen, senior vice president and head of Vaccine R&D for Pfizer. “Data and analyses show that scientific acceptance and policy changes can provide new opportunities to prevent life-threatening infections in babies through maternal immunization. They are the next frontier of vaccinology.”
Pfizer is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials for its RSV vaccine candidate. RSV is a virus that can cause severe respiratory disease in infants and older adults. Globally, there are an estimated 33 million cases of RSV annually in children less than five years of age, with about three million hospitalized and approximately 120,000 dying each year from complications associated with the infection. According to the World Health Organization, the highest risk of severe outcome from RSV occurs in the first months of life.
The company is in Phase 2 clinical trials for a GBS maternal vaccine. GBS is the leading cause of dangerous infection in newborns, including sepsis (blood infection) and meningitis. Surviving infants may suffer blindness, deafness or neurological damage. About one in 2,000 babies develop the infection in the U.S. In low- and middle- income countries the incidence is estimated to be as high as one in 1,000, according to a National Institutes of Health study.
Strong vaccine pipeline
Pfizer is also in Phase 3 clinical trials for a next generation vaccine to protect against additional disease-causing serotypes of pneumococcal bacteria. Pearl River colleagues were largely responsible for the development of the vaccine available to babies and children and later adults for the prevention of pneumococcal pneumonia and invasive disease caused by 13 Streptococcus pneumoniae strains. Globally, over the past 10 years, this vaccine in infants is estimated to have helped to prevent 175.2 million cases of pneumococcal disease and nearly 625,000 deaths.
A pentavalent meningococcal vaccine under development also is in Phase 3 clinical trials. This brings Pfizer one step closer to helping protect more adolescents and young adults in the U.S. against meningococcal disease, an uncommon but serious and potential life-threatening disease. Pearl River colleagues were responsible for developing two vaccines that protect against different meningococcal serogroups.
Among the number of potential vaccines in development at the site is a candidate in Phase 3 clinical trials aimed at protecting against infections caused by Clostridioides difficile, which can include life-threatening diarrhea and pseudomembranous colitis.
The company recently announced a collaboration to develop and commercialize Valneva’s Lyme disease vaccine candidate, which is currently in Phase 2 clinical studies. The Pearl River site is the primary research and development center housing activities relating to Pfizer’s collaboration with BioNTech, which is focused on developing a potential mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine aimed at preventing COVID-19 infection. To learn more about our COVID-19 vaccine efforts, click here.
Jansen is co-chair of the Vaccines Working Group which is part of the NIH’s Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines public-private partnership. The Vaccines Working Group is charged with accelerating “evaluation of vaccine candidates with a master protocol trial for prevention of disease and a parallel effort to generate biomarkers and other evidence for more rapid approval/authorization,” according to the NIH website.
Through its work in Pearl River, its New York City headquarters and partnerships with institutions, Pfizer remains a major advocate for the global health benefits of vaccines. “The reality is there’s a whole host of unmet medical needs,” said Steve Bjornson, vice president and chief operating officer for Pfizer Vaccine R&D. “It reinforces the need for vaccines globally. It galvanizes our research operation significantly. It’s why we come to work every day.”
It’s also why Pfizer, in order to achieve its goals, is continuing to build its vaccine research and development capabilities in Pearl River. The site is hoping to continue attracting professionals from around the area and elsewhere in the world with a variety of skills and experiences to continue its current work on vaccine candidates and initiate new projects.
Among the positions Pfizer is looking to fill in Pearl River during 2020 are assay developers, bioprocess development scientists, clinical laboratory scientists, discovery scientists, bacteriologists, virologists, robotics programmers, systems programmers, operational staff and clinicians. A full list of opportunities can be found through the careers section of Pfizer.com.
Part of a great community
Among the long-standing allures of Pearl River are its Lower Hudson Valley location and proximity to New York City and New Jersey. The new Tappan Zee Bridge (also known as the Mario Cuomo Bridge) and George Washington Bridge are easily accessible from Pearl River, as is the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, from where the Jersey Shore can be reached. Pfizer colleagues are continuing the site's tradition of giving back to the community. Beyond their day jobs, many have generously given their time to support local charitable organizations for which they are passionate. Pearl River colleagues have continually donated time and money to the People to People food bank in Nanuet and United Way of Rockland County. Dozens participate in United Way's Day of Caring events, and many contribute food, clothing and school supplies to People to People.
Continuing a legacy of innovation
The research and development work being done today is continuing more than a century of innovation that has had life-changing impact around the world, from immunizing children against deadly infectious diseases to developing potential breakthrough therapies for leukemia. Its legacy of innovation dates back to 1907, when Dr. Ernst Lederle established the Pearl River site to produce antiserum to treat children with diphtheria in New York City. Since then, colleagues at the site have developed vaccines to prevent diseases like smallpox and polio.
Pearl River has long been a magnet for scientists from dozens of countries around the world. The rich diversity of colleagues at the site continues to be celebrated with a variety of cultural events throughout the year. “Together, we can help save lives or help people avoid health consequences from preventable, infectious diseases by correcting misinformation and calling out bias,” said Jansen at a BlogHer Health 2020 panel in Los Angeles. Pfizer has strong aspirations for vaccine innovations and is a great place for scientists and other ambitious life science professionals to work!