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Pfizer’s next play: A vaccine maker and pandemic ‘partner’ to governments

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Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine is on track to generate a whopping $26 billion in sales this year, making it the drug maker’s top-selling drug and forging a new path into infectious diseases for the legacy drug maker.

Shares of Pfizer
PFE,
+0.05%

gained 0.2% in trading on Tuesday after the company announced earnings for the first quarter of 2021. It updated guidance for sales of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech SE
BNTX,
-3.45%

to $26 billion for 2021, up from an earlier forecast for $15 billion. 

To put this in perspective, the company’s top-selling cholesterol pill Lipitor brought in $13 billion in annual sales at its peak, in 2006, and generated a total of $94 billion over a 15-year span, according to FiercePharma

Here are a few additional details to pay attention to from Pfizer’s first-quarter earnings: 

  • Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine generated $3.4 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2021. As of Wednesday, the companies have distributed 430 million doses of their vaccine to 91 countries and territories during the pandemic.

  • Pfizer plans to submit its COVID-19 vaccine for full approval from the Food and Drug Administration by the end of May, for people 16 years old or older in the U.S. With full approval comes marketing rights. Expect TV ads that will aim to differentiate the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine from its competitors. 

  • It also plans to submit its COVID-19 vaccine booster to the FDA for emergency-use authorization sometime in July. “There will be a need for boosters,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told investors, according to a FactSet transcript of the earnings call, adding that “all governments in the world are now discussing with us about procurement agreements for 2022, 2023, and 2024.”

  • Outside of vaccines, Pfizer expects to put its experimental oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment up for authorization sometime in December. There are currently no proven oral antiviral COVID-19 drugs. (Gilead Sciences Inc.’s
    GILD,
    +1.33%

    Veklury, which was approved by the FDA for hospitalized patients, is administered intravenously.) Pfizer said Tuesday it is testing its antiviral candidate against a placebo, the monoclonal antibodies developed by Eli Lilly & Co.
    LLY,
    +2.45%

    and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.
    REGN,
    -0.57%
    ,
    and in instances where one household member is sick to see if it can prevent disease in the other members of the household. 

  • Over the course of one year, Pfizer has pivoted and is now positioning itself as a leader in infectious diseases, promoting its experience with mRNA technology and its newfound role as a pandemic partner to governments. Bourla told investors that he expects “durable demand” for COVID-19 vaccines similar to that of flu vaccines. “We want to be a long-term partner to help authorities around the world in their ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19, including their planning for an ongoing pandemic vaccination approach that is fit for purpose to local requirements,” he said.

Pfizer’s stock is up 8.3% for the year, while the S&P 500
SPX,
+0.07%

has gained 11.6%.

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