Looking for an edge over Merck, Pfizer begins testing its COVID-19 vaccine and next-gen pneumococcal shot together

Pfizer building
With sales of Pfizer's Prevnar 13 pneumococcal vaccine down last quarter, the company has begun testing its follow-on shot, Prevnar 20, co-administered with its COVID-19 vaccine. (Fierce Pharma)(Tracy Staton)

In its back-and-forth battle with Merck for supremacy of the next-gen pneumococcal vaccine market, Pfizer is looking for any edge it can get.

Monday’s news that the drugmaker has begun testing its COVID-19 vaccine and 20-valent pneumococcal vaccine candidate together could provide exactly that advantage.

The trail will assess the safety of co-administered shots in adults 65 and older and will include a secondary objective of examining the immune responses produced by each of the vaccines. Investigators will record responses six months after vaccination. 

The test will include 600 adults from the company’s successful phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine. Participants will receive the two vaccines no sooner than six months from their second COVID-19 shot and will be randomized into three groups, receiving either the 20-valent pneumococcal shot and placebo, the 20-valent pneumococcal shot and a COVID-19 booster or a COVID-19 booster and placebo.

RELATED: Merck, locked in next-gen pneumococcal vaccine race with Pfizer, strengthens its lead in childhood use

Merck and Pfizer are targeting launches for their respective next-gen pneumococcal vaccines by the end of this year. Last week Merck landed a big blow, reporting successful results in two phase 3 trials of its candidate, V114, in children. The readouts should allow Merck to submit an application for its shot in kids by the end of the year. Pfizer doesn’t expect its late-stage data on children to be available until next year.

In adult use, both vaccines are up for FDA review this summer. Pfizer’s shot is set for a June decision at the FDA and Merck’s is set for July. 

For Pfizer, a successful trial of its next-gen shot and COVID-19 booster administered together could provide an edge in the next-gen market share battle, particularly if government officials begin to recommend boosters later this year.

RELATED: Prevnar 13 lags amid COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, but Pfizer sees a way to boost the franchise 

With 20 serotypes, Pfizer's next-gen pneumococcal shot has an obvious advantage over Merck’s V114, which targets 15. While Pfizer is slightly ahead in the race to reach adults, Merck has an advantage in the timeline to reach children, the key demographic for the vaccine considering that only 20% of Prevnar 13’s use is among adults.

Pfizer's existing pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar 13, the bestselling vaccine in the world in 2020, generated $5.85 billion last year. But earlier this month, Pfizer reported an 11% first quarter drop in sales as COVID-19 limited patients' visits to doctors, and as COVID-19 vaccine administration took priority over other vaccines.