Pfizer carries pandemic momentum into 2022, scoring another huge Paxlovid deal with the US

With two COVID-fighting antiviral pills now on tap, the U.S. government is calling for a second helping of Pfizer’s treatment.

The U.S. has doubled its order for Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid from 10 million courses to 20 million, the company said Tuesday. At the same time, the government aims to speed up the delivery of those treatments, a senior Biden administration official told Fox News.

Roughly 10 million treatment courses of the antiviral, also known as nirmatrelvir tablets and ritonavir tablets, are set for delivery by the end of June, Pfizer said in a release. The remaining 10 million courses are pegged for delivery by the end of September, Pfizer said.

The purchase comes ahead of a scheduled meeting between President Joe Biden and his COVID-19 response team on Tuesday. Biden is expected to officially unveil the deal for another 10 million Paxlovid courses in brief remarks this afternoon, Fox said.

A Biden administration official told Fox News that the president plans to cite studies showing Paxlovid can “greatly reduce the chances of hospitalization and death for those at high risk of severe outcomes from COVID.” The latest purchase likely means Pfizer's pandemic revenue forecast will need to be scaled up—again. 

The news comes after the U.S. in November snapped up 10 million Paxlovid courses for $5.29 billion. Pfizer’s revenue could climb to $101.3 billion in 2022 thanks to major contributions from Paxlovid and the company’s BioNTech-partnered mRNA vaccine Comirnaty, SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges wrote in a note to clients late last year. Writing in November, Porges forecast 2022 revenues of $24.2 billion and $29.7 billion from Paxlovid and Comirnaty, respectively.

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Cantor Fitzgerald analysts recently made similar predictions, writing in mid-December that Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine and its antiviral pill could together reap peak sales of between $50 billion and $60 billion.

The FDA in late December authorized Pfizer’s Paxlovid for emergency use. The pill has been heralded as a potential game changer thanks to its efficacy, relatively low cost and ease of administration. Meanwhile, ahead of its holiday season authorization, Pfizer said it was boosting manufacturing capacity for the drug, laying out its forecast to make 80 million Paxlovid courses by the end of 2022. It previously telegraphed plans to produce 50 million courses.

After its FDA nod, Paxlovid was quickly joined by Merck & Co. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics’ molnupiravir, which won the FDA’s emergency blessing the day after Pfizer’s pill. A wide arsenal of COVID-19 therapeutics are needed to supplement vaccines, especially in light of concerning variants like omicron, health officials and industry watchers have said.

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“With the Omicron variant surging, the availability of and accessibility to treatment options is of utmost importance, as millions of people are being diagnosed with COVID-19 each and every day,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., said in a statement. “With data showing significant reductions in hospitalizations and deaths, along with the potential for PAXLOVID to maintain robust antiviral activity against Omicron, we believe this therapy will be an important tool in the fight against COVID-19,” he continued.

Paxlovid may indeed already have a leg up on molnupiravir thanks to its superior efficacy and safety profile, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Louise Chen wrote to clients last week. That could lead to Pfizer's pill getting more widespread use than Merck's.