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In May of 2019, Brenda Cooperstone, chief development officer for rare disease at Pfizer, received a troubling phone call from her mother.
She shared that Brenda’s father, then in his early 80s, hadn’t been doing anything out of the ordinary when he felt a painful twinge in his arm.
“Maybe it was all the golf,” Harvey Cooperstone remembers speculating about his injury. “But it was the first time I believed something was wrong.”
Brenda, a physician by training, suspected her father had ruptured his bicep, and that the rupture had been caused by a buildup of amyloid, an abnormal protein that had deposited on his tendon. This was just the latest in a series of symptoms that had Brenda worried her father might be suffering early stages of a rare disease called transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM).
Brenda had intimate knowledge of ATTR-CM because — in a strange twist of fate— she and her team at Pfizer had been studying the disease for over a decade, work that ultimately led to development of the world’s first treatment for this fatal disease.
Brenda’s interest in medicine development began in 1999, when she transitioned from working as a nephrologist into a medical role at Pfizer.
“Until then, I knew the pharma industry as the representatives who came to my office to share the latest on their medicines,” she says. “But then I learned about the work being done in research and development and realized that, instead of helping people one at a time, I could have the opportunity to positively impact thousands of patients.”
At Pfizer, Brenda and her team led a strategy focused specifically on rare diseases — a field that has become a key focus area for Pfizer. “It was clear that, although Pfizer had a core portfolio of products focused on rare diseases, it was still an underserved area,” she says. “We knew putting more emphasis on this area of medicine development would be important for us, but also for patients and families with no treatment options available to them.”