Pfizer executives expressed measured optimism Tuesday over the prospect of providing a coronavirus vaccine in 2020 even as they signaled key data on the vaccine would not be released before the US election.
Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said the drug giant could supply some 40 million doses in the United States in 2020 if clinical testing proceeds as expected and regulators approve a vaccine.
"If all goes well, we will be ready to distribute an initial number of doses," said Bourla, who pointed to a US government contract for Pfizer to supply 40 million doses by the end of this year and 100 million doses by March 2021.
But Bourla said the company still had not reached key benchmarks in assessing vaccine efficacy.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Pfizer previously said it could have the data in October, which might have advanced the process ahead of the November 3 presidential election.
"We have reached the last mile here," Bourla said. "So let's all have the patience that's required for something so important for public health and the global economy."
He said the company expects to file for emergency use authorization for its Covid-19 vaccine in the third week of November, roughly in line with earlier timetables.
Pfizer reported a 71 percent drop in profit to $2.2 billion in the latest quarter. However, the comparable period last year included a large gain connected to a transaction.
Revenues dipped four percent to $12.1 billion, missing analyst estimates.
Pfizer estimated a revenue hit of $500 million connected to Covid-19 due to lower pharma demand in China and fewer wellness visits by US patients.
The company saw an 11 percent drop in its hospital business in emerging markets, primarily due to fewer elective surgeries in China and shorter in-patient hospital stays in the country.
This effect was partially offset by increased demand for the Prevnar-13 vaccine for pneumonia "resulting from greater vaccine awareness for respiratory illnesses," the company said.
Pfizer also cited strong performance in its biopharma business due to good sales for cancer drug Ibrance, anticoagulant Eliquis and other medications.
Rival drugmaker Merck also is working on coronavirus vaccines, but the company is at an earlier phase compared with Pfizer.
Merck said one coronavirus vaccine candidate had entered phase 1 development and a second candidate would reach that stage shortly.
Merck reported a 55 percent jump in quarterly earnings to $2.9 billion on a one percent rise in revenues to $12.6 billion.
Shares of Pfizer fell 1.3 percent to $37.43, while Merck shed 1.1 percent to $77.99.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.