Pfizer, BioNTech keep COVID vaccine deals rolling with 120M-dose Japan pact

With several COVID-19 vaccines now in late-stage testing, countries the world over are hustling to get their hands on their own supplies. Now, one of the leading duos in the inoculation race has inked its third supply pact in the span of two weeks.

On Friday, American drugmaker Pfizer and its German mRNA partner BioNTech announced a deal with Japan to provide 120 million doses of their leading vaccine candidate, BNT162b2. The financial details weren't disclosed, but terms were set based on the timing of delivery and the volume of doses, the companies said in a release.

Under the deal, Pfizer and BioNTech are set to deploy their shots in Japan, approval pending, during the first half of 2021. The partners last week inked a $1.95 billion deal with the U.S. for 100 million doses, and CEO Albert Bourla said this week that a similar price would hold true for other developed nations placing high-volume orders.

The Japan supply deal has symbolic value to the partners as well. 

"[T]he 2020 Tokyo Olympics may become a symbol for all of us for how all nations around the world can overcome a global pandemic threat together," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin, M.D., said. "We are proud and honored that our vaccine candidate may contribute to the efforts undertaken by the government of Japan to turn this vision into reality.”

The Japanese deal marks the country's first major advance purchase for COVID-19 vaccine supplies. Earlier this month, Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson was also in talks with the Japanese government to provide doses of its coronavirus hopeful. That deal has yet to materialize, but CFO Joe Wolk said the final terms would likely resemble the $1.2 billion development pact penned by British drug giant AstraZeneca and the U.S.' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). 

RELATED: Top vaccine players Sanofi, GSK win $2.1B Warp Speed funding for COVID-19 shot

Pfizer and BioNTech's shot hopeful entered late-stage testing Monday. BNT162b2 is one of four mRNA-based coronavirus vaccines the drugmakers have tested. The companies recently posted early data on another candidate, BNT162b1, which was well-tolerated and triggered an immune response, but ultimately settled on BNT162b2 as its strongest contender for phase 2/3. 

The partners are hoping to file for regulatory approval by October should the vaccine triumph in the clinic. On that timeline, Pfizer and BioNTech aim to deploy 100 million doses worldwide by year's end, and around 1.3 billion doses by 2021's close. 

RELATED: Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline pledge 60M doses of their recombinant COVID-19 shot to U.K.

Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech have kicked off their own round of supply deals in recent weeks, starting with a commitment to the U.K. for 30 million vaccine doses over the next two years. 

Shortly after the U.K. deal was announced, the partners landed its $1.95 billion order for 100 million doses in the U.S. under the umbrella of the Trump Administration's Operation Warp Speed vaccine program. The government also has the option to secure up to 500 million additional doses at a later date. 

News of the U.S. deal kicked off a fresh round of debates over vaccine pricing and public health interests amid the pandemic. As long as COVID-19 cases remain on the rise, Pfizer will price its vaccine for broad distribution, said Angela Hwang, group president for Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals during a recent earnings call. But once COVID-19 vaccinations enter a more stable, seasonal phase, the company aims to enforce a more value-based pricing approach, Hwang said.

In the meantime, Pfizer has also expressed interest in partnering with COVAX—an equitable vaccine distribution platform backed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; and the World Health Organization. The initiative would help provide coronavirus vaccines from a range of manufacturers to governments across the globe, including those in developing nations.