BioNTech's shares tumble—again—amid continued COVID vaccine sales slide

Four months ago, when BioNTech slashed its 2023 revenue projection from 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion) to 4 billion euros ($4.3 billion), it was a jolting indication of the plummeting demand for COVID-19 vaccines.

When BioNTech reported its fourth-quarter results Wednesday, it was another harsh reminder of the continuing trend. Sales came to 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) for the fourth quarter and 3.8 billion euros ($4.1 billion) for 2023, coming up short of expectations.

On a conference call, BioNTech execs said the company was surprised by the level of fourth-quarter inventory write-downs at its COVID-19 partner Pfizer.

“The negative impact on our revenue for 2023 accumulated to a total of approximately 900 million euros," BioNTech chief financial officer Jens Holstein said on the call.

Either way, it’s another indication that post-pandemic revenue for the COVID-19 vaccine sellers is not what they expected. In addition to BioNTech coming up short on its 2023 guidance, at this time last year, Pfizer projected sales of Comirnaty to reach $13.5 billion. They instead came to $11.2 billion.

In 2024, BioNTech is projecting sales to range between 2.5 billion euros and 3.1 billion euros ($2.71 billion and $3.36 billion), which came up short of the analyst consensus of 3.44 billion euros ($3.7 billion). Meanwhile, Pfizer is projecting Comirnaty sales to reach $5 billion and Moderna is estimating its COVID-19 shot Spikevax will generate $4 billion in revenue this year.     

With the news, BioNTech's shares had dropped by 7% by mid-morning, with Third Bridge healthcare analyst Lee Brown noting that they dipped to a 52-week low.

“The company’s Q4 sales plunged 65%, woefully missing consensus of 1.868 billion euros by nearly 21%," Brown wrote. "Turning to the bottom line, BioNTech reported earnings per share of 1.90 euros, down 79% year-over-year and a meaningful disappointment relative to consensus of 2.31 euros.”

One positive in BioNTech's report was that it still managed a profit of 458 million euros ($497 million) for the fourth quarter and 930 million euros ($1 billion) for the year. The company entered 2024 with cash, cash equivalents and security investments totaling 17.7 billion euros ($19.2 billion).

“2024 will be a transition year for our company in which we will continue to invest in our long-term profit strategy while maintaining strict cost discipline,” Holstein said. “Taking into account cost of sales, R&D and all other expenses we do not expect to be profitable in 2024.”

In its pipeline, BioNTech has seven programs in phase 2 and phase 3 trials. The company expects to have “10-plus trials with registrational potential initiated by the end of 2024,” Ryan Richardson, chief strategy officer, said.

The company is touting its oncology candidates that can “target multiple solid tumors,” according to Richardson.

“The peak sales estimate for that collection of assets is actually well over $10 billion in our estimates long term,” he added. “We’re focused now on executing in those first launches. We’re not prepared yet to give a 2030 number.”