BioNTech, eyeing $18B-plus in COVID-19 vaccine sales this year, poised to join the ranks of the world's top drugmakers

BioNTech production
The majority of 2021's leftover production capacity will be used to produce vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, a BioNTech exec said Monday. (BioNTech)

The COVID-19 pandemic helped put mRNA vaccines on the map. Now, thanks to the shots' quick uptake in rich countries, mRNA specialist BioNTech appears poised to join the ranks of the world's top drugmakers by sales. 

Now prophesizing €15.9 billion ($18.7 billion) in COVID-19 vaccine sales in 2021, Pfizer’s German mRNA partner BioNTech will likely join the ranks of the world’s top 20 drugmakers by revenue this year. It’s a similar story to Moderna, which never had an approved drug prior to its COVID-19 shot, but is now forecasting about $20 billion in 2021 revenues.

BioNTech previously said it expected to reap €12.4 billion in 2021 vaccine sales. Its Pfizer-partnered coronavirus shot is its only marketed product. 

With its current sales forecast, BioNTech would land toward the bottom of the top 20 pharma industry sales rankings, joining drugmakers like Biogen, Teva Pharmaceutical and Novo Nordisk. Those companies generated $13.44 billion, $16.66 billion and $20.24 billion, respectively, in 2020.

RELATED: Pfizer, Moderna hike COVID-19 vaccine prices in new European supply deals: report

BioNTech’s partner Pfizer ranked 8th last year with $41.9 billion in 2020 revenue. Meanwhile, Pfizer recently raised its 2021 COVID-19 vaccine revenue guidance to $33.5 billion, so it should jump up a few spots on the annual ranking. The number reflects profits shared with BioNTech from the roughly 2.2 billion doses the partners aim to deliver this year.

Looking ahead, the companies have already booked orders for more than 1 billion doses in 2022, Sean Marett, chief business and commercial officer at BioNTech, said on a call with analysts Monday.

Under those deals, Europe and the U.S. would be able to get their hands on an updated vaccine or a new formulation designed to tackle virus variants like Delta, if approved and available, Marett added.

Pfizer and BioNTech have signaled their intent to produce 3 billion vaccine doses this year and 4 billion in 2022. A “significant amount” of 2021’s remaining production capacity will be used to make doses for low- and middle-income countries, Marett said.

Pfizer and Moderna have pledged 2 billion doses to those countries over the next 18 months, with part of that access plan hinging on 500 million doses the partners will provide to the U.S. at a not-for-profit price. The U.S. will then donate those doses to low- and middle-income countries, as well as vaccine distribution organizations like COVAX, Marett said.

RELATED: BioNTech makes a splash in cell therapy with purchase of factory, R&D platform from Gilead's Kite

Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech recently made a push into Africa when they teamed up with South Africa's Biovac to help make and distribute their vaccine for the continent. Pfizer and BioNTech have "immediately" kicked off tech transfer, on-site development and equipment installation at the new site, Marett said. The factory will eventually have the capacity to fill and finish more than 100 million doses.

The company expects Biovac-made doses to start rolling out in 2022, he added. 

All told, BioNTech turned out an impressive €5.3 billion in second-quarter revenues, leaping nearly 197% over the €41.7 million it reeled in during the same period last year.

How does the company plan to spend its COVID-19 windfall? BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin has some ideas.

Now sitting on piles of pandemic cash, the helmsman recently telegraphed BioNTech's intent to become a “global immunotherapy powerhouse.” The company has a Pfizer-partnered mRNA vaccine in flu expected to enter the clinic in the third quarter, plus a malaria shot that it hopes to push into human trials by the end of next year. In oncology, where the company was originally focused before the pandemic, BioNTech recently kicked off phase 2 studies of its separate mRNA-based cancer vaccines BNT111 and BNT113, which are being tested in melanoma and HPV16-positive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, respectively.