Pfizer's CMO Rothenberg hits the exit, handing over the reins to Stanford's Habtezion

A new year and a new chief medical officer for Big Pharma Pfizer, as Mace Rothenberg, M.D., announced via Twitter that he’s off to pastures new, with Pfizer tapping Stanford University’s Aida Habtezion, M.D. as its new CMO.

Rothenberg leaves Pfizer after a major 12-year stint, working his way up through its oncology research division to become CMO in January 2019.

A year into this position and Pfizer became, alongside German partner BioNTech, one of the leading lights against the COVID-19 pandemic, with Rothenberg at the front. Last March, the Big Pharma tapped him to star in a series of short social media videos in the #KnowtheFacts about COVID-19 campaign, as hashtagged on Twitter.

This campaign featured Rothenberg offering levelheaded facts and personal tips for dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. In the first video, he explains what the virus is, how it’s transmitted, what its symptoms are and who members of the high-risk populations are.

As well as being in front of the camera, he helped work behind the scenes on the development of the BioNTech-partnered vaccines, one of which has now been given emergency use grants by the U.S. and U.K. in recent weeks.

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But now, as the rollout of that vaccine begins in earnest, Rothenberg was on Twitter again, but this time announcing his departure. “Today is my last day as Chief Medical Officer @pfizer. It has been an honor and privilege to serve in this role.” He did not say he was retiring, but gave no details of any new role he may be taking up in the future.

He will be succeeded by Aida Habtezion, a physician-scientist at Stanford University School of Medicine, who also spent six years as a clinical, integrative and molecular gastroenterology study section member at the National Institutes of Health.

“I look forward to spending the next few months helping [Aida Habtezion] transition into the CMO role,” Rothenberg continued. “Aida is an extremely accomplished physician-scientist as well as an inspirational leader. I have every confidence in her continued success in this new role. Welcome to Pfizer, Aida!”

She becomes Pfizer's new CMO as well as head of worldwide medical and safety within Worldwide Research, Development and Medicine, and will be one of very few female CMO leaders within the life science industry. The hiring also follows a new trend of tapping academia for top pharma R&D roles, with Roche/Genentech recently luring Aviv Regev, Ph.D., as its new head of research and early development from the Broad Institute.

Habtezion, who joined Stanford as an assistant professor a decade ago and also serves as faculty in the immunology doctoral program and at the Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, will “provide dynamic leadership and a strong medical voice for Pfizer as we transform into a purely innovative biopharmaceutical company,” according to the Big Pharma.