Pfizer, Regeneron CEOs see extended need for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments as pandemic enters next phase

Pharma companies with COVID-19 vaccines and drugs have reeled in big sales in recent months, but even as vaccines promise to eventually tackle the pandemic, eye-popping revenue figures will continue for quite some time, execs project.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has flagged the likely need for vaccine boosters as the pandemic continues to evolve. On a recent conference call with analysts, he said that "basically all governments of the world are now discussing with us about procurement agreements" for 2022, 2023 and 2024. In fact, Europe just signed a massive agreement for up to 1.8 billion doses from Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023.

Patients are “likely” to need a third dose of Pfizer and BioNTech’s shot once the period of initial protection wanes, CEO Albert Bourla said in a recent interview with CVS Health Live. The comments came shortly after Pfizer posted data showing Comirnaty was 91.3% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 for up to six months in patients who'd received their second dose.

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While protection remains high for those six months, it does “go down by time,” Bourla said, adding that the data stressed a “need” for re-vaccinations. He said it was currently unclear when and how frequently boosters might be required. “There will be likely a need for a third dose somewhere between six and 12 months, and then from there, there will be an annual re-vaccination.”

In a Monday note to clients, Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote that his team is "not sure [Pfizer] will be right longer-term," but that the company is "making a killing now." The team projects $36 billion from the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this year, a revenue figure that would blow away all other records in pharma history.

Pfizer has not been shy about potentially raising prices as the pandemic evolves, either. After the crisis shifts from a pandemic response to endemic virus containment, Pfizer is "going to get more on price," CFO Frank D'Amelio has said.

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Meanwhile, even as COVID-19 vaccines roll out swiftly, Regeneron CEO Len Schleifer recently told analysts he sees an "ongoing global need" for treatments such as Regen-Cov, Regeneron's antibody combo. Regeneron's antibody sales won't be able to match those collected by leading vaccine players, but Schleifer and others see a continued role for the medicines.

In the U.S., current estimates project that tens of millions of people will remain unvaccinated, Schleifer said. And among "those who are vaccinated, significant numbers will not mount a protective response, such as those who are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed," he added. It's important to continue to administer COVID-19 treatments in order to save lives, he said on a recent conference call.

The comments come as Pfizer and its partner BioNTech aim to scale up production to make 3 billion doses of their vaccine this year, and more than 3 billion doses next year. Regeneron and its partner Roche are angling to make more than 2 million treatment doses of their cocktail available per year.