Pfizer's latest $3.2B pandemic vaccine contract suggests private market still a ways off: analysts

Just one day after FDA advisers voted to tweak future COVID-19 booster shots, pandemic powerhouse Pfizer has inked yet another U.S. supply deal for its BioNTech-partnered mRNA shot. The government’s premium purchase price suggests the pandemic market’s commercial pivot may still be a ways off, one group of analysts contend.

Ahead of this fall’s vaccination push, the U.S. has laid out $3.2 billion for another 105 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s mRNA shot Comirnaty, with options in place to secure another 195 million doses further down the line. The shipment, which could start delivery as soon as late summer, will include 30-microgram, 10-microgram and 3-microgram doses, covering both adult and pediatric versions of the vaccine. The deal breaks down to around $30.50 per dose.

Further, the agreement could include an omicron-adapted version of the shot for adults, should it pass muster at the FDA, Pfizer said.

Earlier this week, the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted 19-2 to recommend incorporating an omicron-related component into the upcoming season’s tranche of COVID-19 booster doses. Pfizer, for its part, recently shared positive data on two omicron-adapted vaccine candidates.

The speed with which Pfizer’s purchase agreement followed the VRBPAC meeting suggests the U.S. is “still quite concerned about a Fall 2022 SARS-CoV-2 variant wave and is ready to allocate budget towards preventing a spike in cases and hospitalizations,” SVB Securities Research analysts wrote in a note to clients Thursday.

That appetite for COVID-19 shots is so big, in fact, that the U.S. government is shelling out significantly more cash for this round of doses, the SVB team points out. The new contract’s implied price-per-Comirnaty-dose clocks in at around $30.50, a 27% increase from the $24-per-dose price under Pfizer’s last U.S. contract, the SVB team said. Back in 2020, meanwhile, the U.S. was paying roughly $19.50 per dose.

The U.S.’s higher bid for this round of Pfizer shots bodes well for “the government’s willingness to pay a higher price and continue to fund pandemic-related vaccines,” the analysts added. Meanwhile, the introduction of another federal supply deal makes it seem “unlikely” that COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, as well as its mRNA rival Moderna, will transition to a commercial market next year, the SVB team pointed out.

What’s more, the government’s renewed support “removes a downside case” of poor booster uptake in the 2023 private market, the SVB team added. While Pfizer and BioNTech didn’t offer a revenue figure for the additional 195 million dose option included in the deal, the SVB analysts think those doses could be priced higher than $30.50 based on the percent step-up across past contract tranches.

“Either way, the consistent price increases with each contract suggest [Pfizer/BioNTech] have some pricing power for Comirnaty even within the pandemic context and suggests future commercial pricing could be meaningfully higher,” the SVB team added.

With the new deal in place, the SVB team is lifting its 2022 Comirnaty sales forecast from $32 billion to $35 billion. Taking a closer look at the U.S., the analysts expect Pfizer’s shot to generate around $2 billion stateside in the third quarter and $2.1 billion in the last three months of the year.

Meanwhile, it stands to reason that a new Moderna contract could soon follow, too, the SVB team added. Were Moderna to clinch a U.S. contract of “potentially similar size,” the big biotech could “maintain or modestly raise sales guidance,” the analysts suggested.