In Conversation with Pfizer’s Pierre Guadreault: Transforming Healthcare Technology in Asia

30 September 2022

The development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech has been billed as one of the biggest public health achievements of the 21st century. In a session chaired by Dr. Juliana Chan, CEO, Wildtype Media at the 2022 Asia Tech x Singapore headliners, we heard more about this achievement from Pierre Gaudreault, President, Asia Region (Emerging Markets) Pfizer Inc. and the vital role of technology in its success. 

There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated the rise of digital healthcare technologies and innovation. As the world faced unprecedented disruptions caused by the pandemic, healthcare professionals and organisations were challenged to respond with greater efficiency and urgency. The healthcare industry also had to rapidly adjust from a physical-care model to a digital health services model.

From teleconsultation to remote monitoring, the world witnessed the impacts of technology for alleviating burden on healthcare systems in the fight against a global pandemic. There was perhaps no greater example of how technology innovation had to be accelerated in an emergency situation than the development of COVID-19 vaccines in record time.

Developing a vaccine in less than a year for a novel pathogen had never been done before COVID-19. However, as the pandemic continued to claim lives across the globe, it was a race against time. In the face of a growing crisis, digital transformation enabled Pfizer to accelerate and scale research and development as well as clinical trials to bring the first vaccine to market in less than a year. As Gaudreault points out, the elements of science and speed over the last two years would never have been possible five years ago and is linked directly to technology that accelerated the development of Pfizer’s vaccine.

“We recruited 46,000 patients in three months, something that would be impossible in normal clinical trials. Technology helped us identify and recruit patients in advance and at scale, in such a short period.” he explains.  “We used computerised predictive modelling to identify the next COVID ‘hub’ in the world and directed our centre and site to recruit patients in those locations where we believed there’d be a huge rise in cases.”

Impact across the value chain – from R&D to delivery 

One of the biggest impacts of technology transformation was seen at Pfizer’s vaccine research and development phase. Digitalisation helped synthesize molecules in a fraction of the time taken previously. For example, anti-viral pills were launched as a treatment after COVID-19 infection and all the screening of the molecules were done via supercomputing to identify molecules that would be tailormade to the virus.

“Under normal circumstances, that would have taken years. But technology has had a tremendous impact on R&D cycles; using a computerised model and data on which molecules are likely to be more successful, we could then test these, leading to very effective product development,” Gaudreault highlights. “We believe that through faster R&D and faster testing, it leads to faster product development and potentially more lives saved.”

It wasn’t just on site at Pfizer facilities that technology was critically deployed. The first version of Pfizer’s vaccine, approved for emergency use by the end of 2020 had to be transported and stored at ultra-cold temperatures between -90°C and -60°C. In hotter countries like Singapore this proved to be a challenge requiring quick action, so how did Pfizer prepare for the massive distribution effort?

“We partnered with tech companies and transportation companies to develop storage boxes with GPS and real-time temperature checks to transport 3 billion vaccine doses around the world – and we didn’t lose even one batch!” Gaudreault says. “Technology certainly played a huge role in helping us deliver vaccines efficiently and safely to over 1.4 billion people around the world.”

Asia’s health tech ecosystem – what are the priorities?

While COVID-19 spurred the rapid growth of telehealth and telemedicine services, the trend is expected to continue its upward trajectory through to 2024. Digital healthcare models are empowering both patients and caregivers towards reducing costs, inefficiencies and more inclusive disease prevention and treatment plans.  According to Gaudreault, healthcare technology is paving a new path for patient management and response. “Patients are demanding more now from healthcare services; they want access to education, training, support from physicians, and more and the industry must respond.”

He also believes that compliance and adherence by patients are better managed through healthcare technology, when it comes to chronic disease management. “Particularly when it’s a long-standing or asymptomatic condition, patients may drop the ball in taking their medication correctly. Remote monitoring procedures have a big place in patient follow-up and regulating adherence.”

Equity of access to care continues to be a huge priority in Asia, the world’s most populous continent. However, quality and affordable health care remain out of reach for many. Additionally, by 2025, Asia will be home to 456 million seniors aged 65 or older, representing 10 percent of its population – a 14% growth over 2021 – that will increase potential demand for health services and widen healthcare inequity.  

“This part of the world is in great need for affordability and financing to provide access to therapies that will change patients’ lives in Asia. Where you live shouldn’t impact the quality of your healthcare. At Pfizer, we work to close the health equity gap through our An Accord for a Healthier World initiative. However, we need to see more partnerships between fintech, insurance, and the healthcare industry being created to finance and help lower income families access lifesaving solutions.”

This conversation took place in June 2022, at Asia Tech x Singapore, Asia’s annual flagship tech event. The ATxEnterprise Headliners convened the biggest names in technology, innovation and investment to understand how they are shaping the industries of the future, from green tech and genetics to cybersecurity and the metaverse. This session is available on-demand till 30 November 2022, and can be accessed by registering here: