Pfizer adviser

Business and biotechnological expertise go hand-in-hand at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Europe’s legal department – along with a dash of innovation. Lorraine Cushnie reports

Donise Winter is not a woman to walk away from a challenge. As European legal director for Pfizer Consumer Healthcare (PCH) Europe, Winter and her two-man team have responsibility for all business colleagues and affiliates in Europe covering all legal issues relating to licensing, regulatory, R&D, IP and competition.

On top of that, last year Winter led her team through an ambitious project to sell 60 non-core brands across 18 jurisdictions, which completed in record time thanks to the team’s innovative solution to speed up the due diligence exercise.

The sale was part of a rationalisation project following Pfizer’s acquisition of consumer healthcare business Pharmacia in 2003. To avoid the logistical nightmare of a multitude of small transactions, the 60 brands were split into eight distinct bundles and sold through a competitive auction. And instead of carrying out due diligence in the traditional manner, the team utilised a secure virtual data room and conducted multiple procedures in parallel. As a result, the deal closed in just five months rather than the year that had been predicted.

The record speed in which the sale was concluded helped Winter’s team win European In-house Team of the Year at The Lawyer Awards in June 2005.

Winter says winning was a shock, but it was also justification of her strategy over the last 12 months. “If we were going to win then last year was an ideal opportunity, because we focused on a pan-European approach and on building up our pan-European expertise,” she reasons.

Winter and her colleagues are certainly not short of pan-European expertise. Winter is qualified to practise law in France and Germany as well as the UK. Her multilingual team also includes Nordic legal director Kicki Koeck, who is based in Helsingborg, Sweden, and Chris Turnbull, who is based with Winter in Pfizer’s European headquarters in Surrey.

This breadth and depth of knowledge is vital for a legal team that has to tackle the wide array of regulatory regimes in place across Europe. For instance, Winter cites the different procedures her team must be familiar with in order to challenge claims by rival companies. She also ensures that Pfizer’s affiliates are kept up to date on regulatory changes.

Winter’s team is one of three legal groups assigned to each of Pfizer’s three main areas of business. PCH is responsible for over-the-counter medicines, healthcare and cosmetics. Its brands include Nicorette, Listerine and Benylin. There is also in-house counsel assigned to Pfizer Human Health, which has responsibility for R&D, and Pfizer Animal Health, which produces animal-specific medicines.

Winter joined Pfizer five years ago after spells as a non-contentious IP lawyer at Cambridge firm Hewitson Becke & Shaw and CMS Cameron McKenna, where she focused on pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. She has also worked in-house at Zeneca Agrochemicals (now Syngenta) in the UK and in Novartis Pharma’s Swiss headquarters. She took up her current role two years ago and has not looked back. “At Pfizer I’m a genuine business partner. I get to share in risk decision-making and I’m not just used as a safety net when things go wrong.”

The success of the non-core brands sale encouraged Winter to assess the legal team’s practice in its day-to-day responsibilities. This led to a review of priorities and a curtailment of all its high-volume work for affiliate clients. Instead of doing this work directly, there is now a virtual data room where clients gain access to in-house legal seminars, template agreements and guidance on the most frequently repeated queries.

This allows Winter to focus on priority areas for the future. For Pfizer, this means targeting the three most aggressive growth markets in Europe: tobacco dependence, oral care and the upper respiratory tract. In the legal arena, this means moving effectively on licensing and acquisitions as well as challenging competitors over misleading comparative claims and the misuse of Pfizer’s IP.

Winter’s small team handles 95 per cent of PCH’s legal work in-house. External lawyers are only brought in for major corporate deals and litigation, but even then Winter will steer firms towards an approach in keeping with Pfizer’s method of problem-solving.

“When I instruct lawyers I always research the point myself and put my own legal opinion in to make sure they can provide pragmatic and commercially focused advice,” she says.

Pfizer farms out legal work to three main firms: Winter’s former employer Camerons, and the wider CMS network, handle corporate competition issues; US firm Arnold & Porter is brought in on regulatory matters; and Olswang covers media and IP work.

Winter also credits the corporate culture at Pfizer as instrumental to her team’s overall success. “There’s a real buzz in this place, it breathes innovation,” she enthuses, adding that “the [non-core brand] auction showed we are willing to set ambitious targets in order to achieve a great result and not take a cautious approach”.
Donisee Winter
European legal director
Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Europe

Organisation Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Europe
Sector Pharmaceutical
Employees 732
Legal capability Three
European legal director Donise Winter
Reporting to Martin Teicher, vice-president and assistant general counsel, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Legal
Main law firms Arnold & Porter, CMS Cameron McKenna and Olswang