'Hope is not science': Pfizer CEO straps in for the COVID-19 long haul, sticking by Paxlovid and Comirnaty

Even if government contracts for COVID-19 antivirals and vaccines dry up, Pfizer is primed and ready to maintain its pandemic sales dominance, the company’s chief executive said on an investor call Thursday.

“In terms of our commercial leadership, we believe Pfizer’s skills are even better suited for operating in open markets than they are for [the] government contract market,” CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., said during the company’s second-quarter earnings call. Once the pandemic market shifts to an endemic one, Bourla figures Pfizer will be “even more competitive” with its mRNA shot Comirnaty and its oral antiviral Paxlovid.

Bourla made his remarks as Pfizer posted total second-quarter revenues of $27.7 billion, up 53% over the same period In 2021. Of that sum, Paxlovid chipped in $8.1 billion, while Comirnaty contributed $8.8 billion. COVID aside, Pfizer enjoyed a revenue boost courtesy of Vyndamax, which grew 16% to $552 million, as well as its stable of Prevnar vaccines for pneumococcal disease, which pulled down $1.4 billion globally.

Meanwhile, Pfizer’s helmsman echoed earlier warnings that the pandemic could become a fact of life—something that certainly wouldn’t hurt the company’s top line.

“After two-and-a-half years, like everyone else, we would hope that this global health crisis would be over soon,” Bourla said Thursday. “But as much as hope is important, hope is not science,” the CEO said, noting that the science suggests “COVID-19 likely will remain a major global healthcare concern for years to come.”

Despite certain efficacy and demand questions, Pfizer stuck by its revenue forecast for its COVID-19 products. It echoed predictions for Paxlovid and Comirnaty to generate $22 billion and $32 billion in sales for the year, respectively.

Earlier this year, demand for Paxlovid fell short of Pfizer’s expectations, thanks to complicated eligibility requirements, reduced testing, the potential for drug interactions and a public perception that omicron infections aren’t as severe.

Now, however, Bourla says Pfizer is “very pleased” with the antiviral’s trajectory in the U.S., where there are now more than 41,000 sites with Paxlovid supply as of July 15. That figure is up by more than 7,000 from early May, Bourla pointed out.

Bourla also trumpeted the FDA’s recent decision to allow the med to be dispensed at pharmacies, noting that since the first quarter, the company has seen Paxlovid use increase five-fold in the U.S.

The CEO added that Pfizer is taking a “state-by-state approach to engaging key government officials to discuss their access strategies.”

Further, the company continues to educate states, healthcare providers and pharmacies about Paxlovid’s potential in “all appropriate” high-risk patients, rather than immunocompromised and unvaccinated people alone, Bourla said.

Still, Paxlovid’s time in the limelight may not last forever. After a sales peak in 2022, Paxlovid revenues are due to slip from 2023 onward, courtesy of a second round of booster vaccines and estimates of fewer cases requiring hospitalization, GlobalData recently predicted.

What’s more, lackluster data has prompted Pfizer to stop enrollment for a Paxlovid clinical trial weighing the antiviral in standard-risk patients, cutting off demand in that wider patient group, GlobalData said.

Looking ahead, Pfizer stuck by its full-year revenue forecast between $98 billion to $102 billion in 2022.