JPM: How did Pfizer up its COVID-19 vaccine capacity? 'Out of the box manufacturing,' CEO says

Earlier this week, Pfizer partner BioNTech upped the pair’s 2021 COVID-19 output projection to 2 billion doses for 2021, up from a previous estimate of 1.3 billion. But how will the companies get there?

By doing things “very differently and very out of the box in manufacturing,” CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., explained Tuesday during a fireside chat at the annual J.P. Morgan healthcare conference.

There are “so many initiatives we have put in place,” Bourla said, including changing the the way it works with partners on raw materials, reimagining its operational flow to improve capacity, designing new equipment—and working with manufacturers to get that new equipment delivered quickly—and more.

And getting there was no easy feat. “I have to say that I have admiration for our manufacturing team as much as I have for our research team,” Bourla said. “It’s almost equally difficult to scale up manufacturing at that level so fast as it was to develop the vaccine, and both teams have risen to the occasion.”

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So what will those additional doses mean for Pfizer’s bottom line? “Clearly, it’s complicated, and clearly there are a lot of dynamics that are happening right now,” Bourla said—but he did for the first time share a 2021 profit prediction of between $3.00 and $3.10 per share at the midpoint, safely above the $2.96 per share that analysts had been expecting.

Unlike major vaccine players AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer hasn’t pledged not to profit off its shot—though the “common element” among all the players’ pricing strategies is that “everybody has priced their vaccine well below the value” to society, Boula said.

But he does see a potential scenario where, after the pandemic phase is done, Pfizer has “repeated business because there’s COVID around” that “we want to keep controlled or that because there are new strains”—and in that situation, the company might use “prices that reflect cutting-edge technology,” similar to those for other next-gen vaccines.

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And speaking of next-gen vaccines, Pfizer expects to eventually wield more of them, including an mRNA-based flu vaccine it’s been working on for the last three years.

“I think it’s a must,” Bourla said of taking mRNA technology into other fields. “I don’t think after all this know-how … that we will not utilize it to be able to provide medical solutions for other devastating diseases.

“Within a year, we accumulated scientific knowledge and technology and know-how of years. We have developed infrastructure that normally would take years to be able to develop,” Bourla continued. "It’s time to use it for the better of humanity.”