Thomas Kleine and Thorsten Mintel in an interview: Three years of successful Co-Creation on the Pfizer innovation axis Berlin - BaWü


In the three years of its existence, the Pfizer Healthcare Hub Freiburg has developed into a recognized and sought-after innovation driver. With the Berlin Hub, it serves a broad range of topics and connects the two innovation ecosystems of Berlin and Baden-Württemberg. We talked about the beginnings, about challenges and potentials – and about why a PGS Hub is more important today than ever.

Mr. Mintel, as Director of Customer Operations, you helped launch the Freiburg Healthcare Hub. Let's take a brief look back: Why was the decision made back then to add a hub in Freiburg to the Healthcare Hub in Berlin?

Thorsten Mintel: We had good experiences with the Healthcare Hub in Berlin and were able to establish really good connections to the innovation scene in the field of digital health. However, Berlin and Freiburg are fundamentally different: While Berlin is home to software developers, Baden-Württemberg is still the land of inventors and engineers.

With the hub in Berlin, we are dedicated to life science topics – so it was only logical to provide Freiburg's globally unique production site with a hub that promotes innovation on a technical level. The idea behind a hub in Freiburg was also to increase the political visibility for Freiburg as a production location and to strengthen the culture of innovation at Pfizer. 

Thomas Kleine: The Freiburg hub was a strategic move to increasingly drive innovation along the entire value chain, from development and production to commercialization via startup collaborations. While there was already a relatively broad hub network from London to Tokyo from a commercial perspective – there was no hub for PGS at the time. Consequently, the establishment of a PGS hub at the highly innovative production site Freiburg was the logical next step.

You always hear about the innovation axis "Berlin- Baden Württemberg", why is this exciting from your point of view?

Thorsten Mintel: In the healthcare sector, we have software and hardware: DiGas as an example for the software side, production and packaging of pharmaceuticals as an example for the other side. The will to innovate is especially in the software area very strong, that is in the nature of things.

But in fact, the innovation of production processes offers enormous potential: producing more resource-efficiently is becoming increasingly important. While we have focused on life sciences with the Berlin Hub so far, with the Freiburg Hub we have broadened our view to include the topics of pharmaceutical production and sustainability and sent a clear signal that we at Pfizer stand for a strong culture of innovation – in all areas.

The two hubs work hand in hand and can access the two large innovation ecosystems of Berlin and Baden-Württemberg for both life science and technology topics – this is also how the Start-Up Gründungskompass of BIOPRO reports on the "Pfizer-Innovation Axis Germany" as a contact for life science and technology startups.

From an international perspective, why is it important and right for the German organization to have two hubs with the respective orientations?

Thomas Kleine: Having two hubs with completely different orientations shows: We are right at the forefront. In an international group like ours, it is always about the visibility and positioning of a country. The Freiburg hub in combination with the Berlin hub is so far unique in the entire Pfizer world and has had strong supporters and sponsors such as Axel Glatz or Peter Albiez on its side right from the start.

And of course, it is ultimately about content and what we "deliver" out of the hubs: Both hubs deal with completely different topics in this regard and thus deliver added value for different patient needs and medical needs.

And finally, the Freiburg hub, as the only hub in the PGS network, also serves as a model for Pfizer's production sites around the world.

Thomas Kleine, as Country Lead Digital and member of the Country Leadership Team, it is your job to drive digital developments at Pfizer. How can the two Pfizer Healthcare Hubs in Germany help to exploit this potential?

Thomas Kleine: Of course, we see great potential in the digital health applications, the so-called DiGAs. The fact that the "Digital Health Care Act" has provided a legal framework for apps of this kind for just over a year, and even provides for regular reimbursement, means that this is also an exciting opportunity from a pharmaceutical perspective. We cover this topic quite well with the Berlin Hub. One important learning here is that it takes a long time to get DiGAs reimbursed and then commercialized.

Over time, it has become clear that the knowledge transfer between the hubs works really great, but we can do more: end-to-end collaborations, for example, the value chain can become more permeable, etc. When we think about innovation in the German Pfizer organization, the area of production really comes to mind. We asked ourselves: Where does Pfizer Global Supply want to go? And how can we support that?

Digitalization offers an almost inexhaustible potential for process optimization, just think of the buzzwords "Industry 4.0" or "Digital Factory" – tapping into this for Pfizer Germany, but also for the global Pfizer organization, is the core task of the Freiburg Hub.

The challenge here is to "put something on the road" of which we can say: the Pfizer Healthcare Hub has developed this together and this has only been possible because we have two Hub sites – perto and Mondas are fine examples of such co-creation.

Let's look back at the important stages and highlights from three years of Healthcare Hub Freiburg!

Thorsten Mintel: It all started with small partnerships, a very manageable network. Then the whole thing picked up speed quite quickly, of course thanks to the exemplary commitment of Peter Neske, who also ensured that the Hub Freiburg had strong supporters right from the start. The hub received a lot of impetus and support, for example, from Kirsten Lund-Jurgensen, the global head of production at the time. With Oana Stürz, we had a young, motivated engineer in the team who brought a good dynamic with her. As her parental leave replacement, we were able to win Dr. Hans Zebner, a very experienced project engineer.

We carried out great projects with innovators and placed the Healthcare Hub Freiburg at conferences, events and workshops.

Today, after three years, the Hub is the most important driver for innovations in the field of production and process optimization and has an excellent network with universities and Fraunhofer institutes, with other accelerators and with companies. And last but not least, the political contacts we have been able to establish are of immense importance to Pfizer.

Thomas Kleine: What is really extraordinary is the networking of the Freiburg hub in the region. The perception and standing that the Hub enjoys in Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg and beyond is fantastic – not least because of the excellent work that Peter Neske does on site.

In three years, thanks to him, the Pfizer Healthcare Hub Freiburg has become a recognized and sought-after player in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

What topics do you see on the agenda of the hubs in the next three years, also with a view to the Global Pfizer Network?

Thorsten Mintel: The exciting topics are just about to come up. Against the backdrop of the Corona pandemic, it became clear how important global supply chains are. In order to provide our patents with the medicines they need at all times in the appropriate quality and quantity, we need a corresponding infrastructure. With its plant in Freiburg, Pfizer operates one of the world's most modern production facilities in the pharmaceutical industry – to maintain this level, we have to continuously optimize our production processes and keep adapting new innovations.

And the issues are becoming increasingly diverse and important: Keyword energy. Energy-efficient and resource-saving production and packaging will be more important than ever in the future. Here we need innovations that help us to make our processes more energy-efficient.

And last but not least, the significance of the hub as an innovation driver far beyond the Freiburg region is of great importance to Pfizer.

Thank you very much for the interview!

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