Echoing Pfizer, BioNTech says it's 'carefully watching' costs as COVID vaccine sales sink

As Pfizer eyes possible cost cuts, its COVID vaccine partner BioNTech is “carefully watching” its spending, the German company’s finance chief Jens Holstein said Monday.

BioNTech's “uncertainty on the revenue line” is the reason for its need to revisit spending, Holstein explained in a statement.

“There has been no precedent on how COVID-19 vaccine rates will evolve after years of a pandemic where people have been vaccinated multiple times,” Holstein added during a conference call Monday. The chief financial officer later acknowledged there's “some level of tiredness” for many people in seeking immunizations.

Despite uncertainty around seasonal demand for COVID vaccines, BioNTech maintained its full-year revenue projection of 5 billion euros.

That target puts pressure on the company to deliver during the upcoming fall and winter seasons. In the second quarter, BioNTech's Pfizer-partnered COVID vaccine Comirnaty returned BioNTech 168 million euros ($185 million) in revenues, bringing the first-half total to 1.4 billion euros. That was down from 9.6 billion euros in the first six months of 2022.

While COVID vaccine volumes are declining, a commercial market is opening in the U.S., allowing the companies to charge a higher price, Ryan Richardson, BioNTech’s chief strategy officer, said on the call.

Besides, the company still has government contracts to fulfill elsewhere this year, including a revised deal with the EU, Richardson noted.

Still, in a move to weather the pressures, BioNTech has initiated a “companywide cost optimization,” which led to an expected reduction in expenditures across the board in R&D, selling and administration, and capital expenses for operations in 2023, Holstein said.

BioNTech is implementing the reduced cost plan as its vaccine partner Pfizer recently alluded to potential cost cuts ahead.

Pfizer is “preparing to have the ability to adjust” its 2024 cost base, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., said during the company's second-quarter earnings call last week. “In fact, we have already identified specific areas where we can make adjustments primarily within our COVID-19 cost base,” he said.

For its part, BioNTech’s expense structure is lean, Richardson stressed. The German company mostly records profit shares from Comirnaty and is only responsible for direct sales in Germany and Turkey. BioNTech is spending less in its collaboration with Pfizer, but it’s also controlling costs related to its oncology pipeline and production buildup, Holstein said.

Unlike its rival Moderna, which is very focused on mRNA, BioNTech has lately branched out to other technologies in oncology. These include a CTLA-4 antibody that BioNTech licensed from OncoC4 and just pushed into a pivotal phase 3 trial in non-small cell lung cancer. And the company is also running a phase 1/2 trial for a Claudin-6-targeting CAR-T therapy.

Monday, BioNTech also expanded an antibody-drug conjugate deal with Duality Biologics to include a third candidate.

“We believe that midterm ADCs as a modality will become a broadly used backbone for combos in oncology,” Chief Medical Officer Özlem Türeci, M.D., said on the call.