A vial and sryinge are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration. Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
A vial and sryinge are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration. Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

Pfizer now expects its Covid-19 vaccine to bring in $33.5bn in revenue in 2021, putting it on course to become one of the best-selling medicines of all time.

The New York drugmaker had previously projected vaccine sales for the year of $26bn. The upward revision is a sign demand for the shots, which Pfizer sells with German partner BioNTech, is surging as countries battle new outbreaks fuelled by the Delta virus variant.

In the second quarter, the vaccine booked $7.8bn in sales, Pfizer said in a statement Wednesday, more than the $7.05bn analysts expected, on average. The companies, which have delivered 1-billion doses of the two-shot regimen, have contracts for 2.1-billion doses through mid-July, and will produce 3-billion shots by the end of the year.

If Pfizer’s sales projections are met, the vaccine would climb into the highest rank of blockbuster medicines, outpacing bellwethers such as AbbVie’s Humira immunosuppressive therapy and Merck cancer fighter Keytruda.

A resurgence of virus infections thanks to the Delta variant is likely to mean sustained demand for vaccines globally. The companies will begin a study of a new Delta-fighting vaccine formulation next month. They’re also discussing with regulators the potential need for third-dose booster shots of the existing formulation to bolster the immunity gained in the initial round of immunisation.

Pfizer said in a presentation accompanying its earnings release that emerging real-world data “suggests immunity against infection and symptomatic disease may wane,” underscoring the need for boosters.

The company said regulators will determine “whether, and which, populations to recommend booster,” and that they will likely first focus on those with compromised immune systems and older adults.

Shares of Pfizer were up 2.4% at 9.44am. New York on Wednesday. Through the close on Tuesday, they had gained 14% this year.

Booster plans

Earlier in July, Pfizer said it would approach US regulators for authorisation of a third booster dose of its vaccine, based on early data showing that it can sharply increase immune protection against the coronavirus.

New data now shows a third dose elicits neutralising titres against the Delta variant, which has become the dominant strain in the US.

Those titres are more than five times higher in younger people, and 11 times greater in older people, than following the typical two-dose regimen. Pfizer said in the presentation that it will publish “more definitive data about the analysis” and share information with global regulators.

In the meantime, the companies this month launched a phase 3 study of the third booster dose, and will enrol 10,000 participants.

Pfizer also aims to create a new formulation of the vaccine tailored to combat the Delta variant. The drugmaker said in the presentation that clinical studies of the new shot are projected to begin in August, subject to regulatory approval, and that the first batch of the shot has already been manufactured.

On Friday, the US clinched a 200-million-dose supply deal with Pfizer and BioNTech. The latest deal grants the Biden administration the option to acquire an updated version of the shot to tackle potential variants if it’s authorised, and also proves 65-million vaccines for children under 12 years.

Vaccine pipeline

Pfizer’s broader vaccine pipeline is getting a pandemic boost. In prepared remarks, executives outlined their business strategy for employing messenger RNA — the technology that’s been validated by Covid-19 vaccines — in other indications.

“The swift delivery of the world’s first mRNA-based vaccine made the scientific opportunity of mRNA technology clear,” said Pfizer chief scientific officer Mikael Dolsten. Dolsten said he sees potential in rare diseases and cancer.

But first the drug giant will invest in strengthening its core franchise of Covid-19 vaccines, and an mRNA flu shot will be the next major target. Pfizer and BioNTech have partnered on such a flu shot since 2018. Subject to regulatory approval, they plan to begin human trials in the third quarter.

Pfizer is also making headway with vaccines that use more traditional platforms.

The company said its respiratory syncytial virus adult vaccine showed 100% efficacy against mild to moderate symptomatic infection in a mid-stage study. Based on these data, the company will initiate a late-stage trial in September, with initial results expected as early as the first quarter of 2022.

Separately, it completed recruitment for a phase 2 trial of a Lyme disease vaccine candidate. A late-stage study is expected to start in the second half of 2022.

The Covid-19 vaccine is expected to bolster Pfizer’s wider business results.

The company now expects full-year revenue of $78bn-$80bn, compared with $70.5bn-$72.5bn previously. Adjusted earnings per share are projected to reach $3.95 to $4.05, up from the previous forecast of $3.55 to $3.65.

Pfizer anticipates spending about $10bn on research and development in 2021, a figure largely driven by its coronavirus-focused programmes. The company is still ushering Covid-19 treatments through the clinic, including a pill.

The oral antiviral, which is administered over the course of five days, moved into phase 2/3 studies earlier in July. Early data, reported Wednesday, suggests the pill has antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses. Should the trial prove successful, Pfizer hopes to seek emergency-use authorisation in the fourth quarter.

The drugmaker’s core pharmaceutical business has continued to show growth, with revenue in the second quarter up 10% to $11.1bn, leading it to raise revenue guidance for that portfolio by $400m for 2021.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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