Wealth Management: Investment Views
Vacccines and diagnostics, An interview with Pfizer
An interview with Bryan Dunn, Investor Relations Officer, Pfizer. Interviewed by Guido Urban, Investment Insights, and Christoph Wirtz, Equity Analyst, Rothschild & Co Wealth Management.
One of the greatest breakthroughs during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the development of vaccines. US pharma giant Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech were the first to have their vaccine authorized* for emergency use in the West. Since the start of vaccination programmes at the end of 2020, many countries across the developed world are seeing considerable traction in those citizens who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Leading this race is the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine (see figure 1). In the following interview with Pfizer, we find out more about the world’s first mass-produced mRNA vaccine.
Mr. Dunn, how successful has the delivery and administration of COVID-19 vaccine programmes been so far? What challenges do we continue to face?
It was obvious to us at Pfizer and BioNTech that the rollout of the first COVID-19 vaccine was going to be an enormous challenge, so we focused on anticipating and solving for these challenges very early in the process, including working to optimize our manufacturing processes to supply more doses sooner. Given the scale of this rollout and the urgent need for vaccines across the world, we engaged with governments early – even before we had a vaccine that we knew would work – in order to lock in supply timing and quantities so we could plan accordingly. While it is clear that demand still outpaces supply in most parts of the world, we should not lose sight of the fact that society has gained access to a vaccine in a matter of months rather than years. In this context, the discovery and rollout of multiple COVID-19 vaccines has been an enormous accomplishment both for Pfizer/BioNTech and the wider pharmaceutical industry.
Figure 1: Which COVID-19 vaccine has greatest global reach?
Number of countries and territories using each vaccine
What do we still have to learn about COVID-19?
We as a society still have much to learn about COVID-19. Currently, our focus at Pfizer is on how the virus mutates and how these mutations might impact the protection afforded from current vaccinations. We continue to test and monitor whether our current vaccine maintains its effectiveness against these new strains. One thing which is looking increasingly clear is that there will be further mutations, so as a society we must be prepared to deal with COVID-19 for longer than we previously anticipated or hoped, and potentially indefinitely.
A key question that is still unanswered is how long the vaccine protects people against the virus. Our current assumption is that people will need a vaccine booster at some point to maintain immunity against current strains and potentially to help increase protection against newer strains, and we are running studies to evaluate that. We still have to assess the level at which antibodies can no longer provide effective immunity, and these booster trials may also help to answer that question. In addition, we don’t know yet how the vaccine performs in younger children, and we recently initiated a study to test that as well. Finally, we are also still studying whether vaccinated people may have contracted asymptomatic infection – so there is still plenty of research to be done.
“We expect to produce over 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, and potentially even more in 2022.”
Bryan Dunn | Investor Relations Officer, Pfizer
How could new COVID-19 variants impact broader vaccine distribution and overall supply chains?
We continue to monitor emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2. We have seen no evidence to date that would suggest these newer variants result in a loss of meaningful protection provided by our original vaccine. However, in order to be prepared for any future strain changes, we recently announced that we will soon start a study of a variant-specific vaccine based on the B.1.351 variant, which was first identified in South Africa.
The mRNA technology used by BioNTech and Pfizer allows for the mRNA in the vaccine to be modified with relative ease, should it be required. We are coordinating with regulatory bodies on a potential pathway for a short timeframe (potentially 100 days from the moment a variant that escapes vaccine protection is identified) for development and clinical testing. This would of course require regulatory approval.
How did Pfizer decide who to sell the vaccine to? What was the sales process?
Pfizer and BioNTech engaged with governments around the world. Pfizer’s CEO has rightly said, “in a pandemic you are only as safe as your neighbour”. Pfizer and BioNTech pursued equitable distribution of the vaccine, engaging with both developed as well as emerging-market countries and the COVAX facility.
We followed a tiered pricing approach, based on countries’ ability to pay. Low income countries have received the vaccine at a not-for-profit price, while developed countries have paid more for their vaccines.
We expect to produce over 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, and potentially even more in 2022.
Given the recent success of mRNA vaccines in fighting COVID-19, can mRNA technology be used to fight other diseases? How much time for observation is needed to rule out any long-term vaccination side effects?
We were studying mRNA technology prior to the pandemic and we have another separate collaboration with BioNTech to develop a mRNA vaccine to prevent influenza. We believe mRNA is a well-suited technology, with the potential to fight many infectious diseases like flu, respiratory syncytial virus, cytomegalovirus and beyond.
Regarding long term safety, while the development and regulatory authorization process of the COVID-19 vaccine was relatively quick, Pfizer and BioNTech’s clinical study will be following trial participants for two years. The vaccine has been administered now to tens of millions of patients globally and we will continue to carefully monitor its efficacy and safety profile.
* Note: The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 16 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of the medical product under Section 564(b)(1) of the FD&C Act unless the declaration is terminated or authorization revoked sooner. Please see EUA Fact Sheet at www.cvdvaccine.com