BioNTech, with partner Pfizer, on track to make 3B COVID vaccine doses in 2021, CEO says

While some drugmakers have been plagued with COVID-19 vaccine production problems that have led to serious delivery delays, the same can’t be said for BioNTech and its partner Pfizer. In fact, executives are now confident they’ll surpass their own supply expectations this year.

BioNTech chief Ugur Sahin on Tuesday said that thanks to the company and partner Pfizer's ramped-up manufacturing capacity, the team will be able to produce nearly 3 billion doses this year—up from a previous forecast of 2.5 billion doses. 

The German biotech isn’t “facing too many technical problems” and can keep us with its delivery schedules as planned, Sahin told the Financial Times during a webcast event. Pfizer, for its part, said in an earnings presentation that it expects to produce "at least" 3 billion doses next year.

Like other COVID-19 vaccine players, BioNTech and Pfizer are working 24/7 to produce as many doses of their authorized vaccine as possible. As of Monday, Pfizer had shipped around 430 million Corminaty doses to 91 countries and territories around the globe, the company said in its most recent earnings release. 

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At the beginning of the year, both companies predicted 1.3 billion doses for 2021. However, the drugmakers have since been able to gradually boost supply expectations thanks to a recent approval for BioNTech’s Marburg, Germany facility, and regulatory approval for six-dose vials. BioNTech bought the site from Novartis last year.

The pair have also signed on other pharma heavyweights, such as Novartis and Sanofi, to join their manufacturing efforts. BioNTech is in talks to set up production sites in Asia, South America and Africa and could potentially issue licenses to other “really competent” manufacturers to boost global supply, Sahin told the Associated Press last week. 

“Because of our manufacturing enhancements, we are now confident we can deliver 2.5 billion vaccines in 2021,” a Pfizer spokesperson told Fierce Pharma in an email. Pfizer added that the additional capacity will allow the company to “manufacture at least 3 billion doses in 2022.” 

However, based on the contracts inked as of mid-April this year, Pfizer expects to deliver roughly 1.6 billion doses this year, the spokesperson said. 

"This means we have significant anticipated capacity that has not yet been contracted. We continue to negotiate with multiple countries/organizations for these unclaimed doses," the spokesperson said. 

The supply deals have resulted in a massive financial haul: Pfizer reported $3.5 billion in global Corminaty sales for the first quarter. The New York-based company now expects a whopping $26 billion in COVID-19 vaccine sales this year, based on the 1.6 million doses it has pledged worldwide.

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The other mRNA rival, Moderna, has predicted output of up to 1 billion doses this year and recently announced it can produce at least 800 million doses by year’s end, up from an estimated 700 million. The biotech said it doesn’t expect to reach 3 billion doses per year until 2022.