Derek Fetzer Derek Fetzer's last three years at Johnson & Johnson focused on global public health and the launch of its CaringCrowd platform, which has touched countless lives through nearly 600 successfully funded nonprofit projects in underserved communities around the world. (Photo provided)

Bringing Medicines to Market

Pharmaceutical exec Derek Fetzer goes the distance

Some small steps are bigger — and longer­ — than others are.

Derek Fetzer began his more than 3,600-mile journey to Purdue from Lima, Peru, where he lived from his late teens to his mid-twenties.

After earning a BS in Industrial Engineering from Universidad de Lima, he worked in the country for several years before setting his sights on a graduate degree in the field. Upon the recommendation of a former professor, he chose Purdue for its international status, faculty excellence and diverse student population.

Following the completion of his MS in Industrial Engineering in 1995, Fetzer worked as an operations research analyst for two years, and then returned to Purdue as an MBA student. His introduction to Krannert came in part through Purdue’s Technology Transfer Initiative. “They gave me an assistantship and put me to work,” he says. “It was a great, hands-on learning experience.”

In fact, Fetzer enjoyed it so much that he opted out of a summer internship to continue his work with the Technology Transfer Initiative. He also built his portfolio of skills with additional coursework, especially project-based classes that allowed him to apply his skills outside the classroom. “I think it’s important for students to get their hands dirty,” he says.

Notably, Fetzer and his team’s work on a microscopic oxygen sensor won the top prize in the 2000 Burton D. Morgan Entrepreneurial Competition. “Ultimately, it didn’t pan out, but it was still a valuable lesson in the product commercialization process,” he says. “What I learned has proven useful many times in my career.”

With his Purdue MBA in hand, Fetzer joined Owens Corning in 2000 as a market research manager before shifting industries to pharmaceuticals with a short stint at marketRX (now Cognizant) followed by more than 13 years with Johnson & Johnson.

During that time, Fetzer managed or directed global strategic analytics for teams working on numerous public health issues, including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. “Bringing medicines to the marketplace is a fascinating experience,” he says. “There are a lot of moving parts, so having a clear commercialization strategy is key.”

To that end, Fetzer approaches strategy as a storyteller, using metrics to weave a narrative that connects everything and works toward a decision point. “Without storytelling, you're just going to find yourself awash and in reams and reams of data and not knowing what any of it actually means.”

The last three years of Fetzer’s tenure at Johnson & Johnson focused on global public health and the launch of its CaringCrowd platform, which has touched countless lives through nearly 600 successfully funded nonprofit projects in underserved communities around the world. The platform won the People’s Choice Award at SXSW in 2017.

Today, Fetzer continues his work in the healthcare industry as director of customer insights and market access at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Although he is still nearly 800 miles from his alma mater, he keeps Purdue close to his heart.

“I built relationships with diverse students and faculty, which in turn led to lifelong friendships,” Fetzer says. His wife, Veronica, accompanied him from Peru to earn a master’s degree in education from Purdue

“We both loved our time at Purdue,” he says. “When it was time to go, we wept.”

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