JPM24: Pfizer CEO promises 'year of execution' after recent struggles, Seagen buyout

Pfizer knows it had a bad year in 2023. Speaking to reporters at the 2024 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Monday, the company’s CEO, Albert Bourla, spoke bluntly about the hits the company took, and he acknowledged the underperformance of certain key launches.

But 2024 represents a fresh opportunity for the pharma giant, Bourla said.

“In essence, you should expect 2024—after all the changes in the setup that we did in year ’23—to be a year of execution," he told the JPM audience.

Pfizer will attempt to execute, in part, by leveraging its recent $43 billion buyout of antibody-drug conjugate specialist Seagen, Bourla explained. Further, the company hopes to advance its presence in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), where Pfizer recently launched its vaccine Abrysvo.

Still, Bourla was frank about the challenges Pfizer faced in 2023.

“The year for us, we missed our internal projections. And also we missed the expectations of the street,” he said. “And the miss was predominantly in COVID, but also we didn’t impress very much with the commercial performance of the other projects.”

“We used to be the stars of the industry for a few years, so that drop really hurts," he continued.

Despite the struggles, Bourla maintains that several Pfizer successes last year have been “lost in translation."

Among those wins, Pfizer scored a “record” number of FDA approvals in 2023, the CEO added, pointing to green lights for nine new molecules.

Further, Pfizer’s closure of its Seagen buyout “demonstrates our ability to navigate a very complex legal and political system in an effective way,” Bourla said.

Still, “we were not very happy with the performance of our commercial operations, particularly outside the U.S.,” Bourla noted.

But with Seagen now flying Pfizer colors, Pfizer has the potential to triumph in oncology, Bourla said. Beyond making the most of its Seagen purchase, Pfizer’s second priority for 2024 will be to forge ahead with its multiple drug launches. 

Pfizer figures Seagen could help bring in more than $10 billion in risk-adjusted sales by 2030, according to the CEO. He pointed out that antibody-drug conjugates have become “the hottest thing on earth right now in oncology.”

Meanwhile, within the realm of vaccines, the launch of Pfizer’s respiratory syncytial virus shot Abrysvo “was a bad launch for Pfizer,” Bourla admitted.

In the third quarter of 2023, Pfizer's RSV competitor GSK reported around $860 million in sales from its vaccine. That figure compared with $375 million for Pfizer's shot.

Currently, Pfizer only has 35% of the RSV market share, according to the CEO's Monday presentation.

“That’s not Pfizer,” Bourla said. “We should have high market share. So, we need to fix it.”

Ultimately, 2024 is a year in which Pfizer will “try to consolidate what we already acquired,” Bourla said, noting that the company will stay away from striking a "big acquisition."