Pfizer details plans to expand vaccine portfolio beyond Prevnar

Pfizer ($PFE) is an unusual player in the vaccine space. It is the fourth biggest vaccine company by revenue, yet almost wholly reliant on one product--Prevnar 13. At a media event in New York this week, the company's top brass explained how they plan to build out the business in the coming years.

The reliance on Prevnar is a relic of the takeover of Wyeth. Buying Wyeth kickstarted Pfizer's vaccine revenues but still left it with a small portfolio of commercial jabs. "Wyeth was basically a one-vaccine company and probably struggled to find the resources to expand it into a fully-fledged portfolio," Pfizer CEO Ian Read said at the media event. In the four years since it acquired Wyeth, Pfizer has invested to expand its vaccine pipeline, but it is unlikely to see a return until later this decade.

By then, Pfizer hopes to have brought its meningococcal B and Staphylococcus aureus vaccines to market. The jabs are currently in Phase III and II, respectively. In MenB, Pfizer is up against Novartis ($NVS), which won European approval for its jab, Bexsero, earlier this year. Pfizer faces competition in S. aureus too, although all its rivals are still in development. Merck ($MRK) was ahead of Pfizer in the race to commercialize a S. aureus vaccine, but its candidate failed late-phase trials in 2011.

Pfizer's SVP of vaccine research Kathrin Jansen said the company has learned from the failures of others. Jansen--who was involved with development of Prevnar and Merck's Gardasil--explained that the complexity of S. aureus necessitates a multi-pronged approach. Pfizer has fed this knowledge into the design of its vaccine and believes it is well-placed to prevent an infection that costs U.S. healthcare billions of dollars a year. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Novartis and biotech NovaDigm Therapeutics are also developing S. aureus vaccines.

Blockbuster sales await whoever is first to market. Pfizer believes its vaccines for Clostridium difficile, smoking cessation and allergic asthma could generate big sales too, but these are still in Phase I. Even further down the pipeline in preclinical, Pfizer has cancer vaccine candidates. "The immune system is really a powerful way of combating cancer. Immune modulators will be a key way forward," James Merson, Pfizer SVP, CSO Vaccine Immunotherapeutics, said.

The cancer candidates are still years away from commercialization, though. In the nearterm, Pfizer is looking to Prevnar for growth. Trials are under way to help bring the vaccine to new markets--including China--and expand use in existing territories. Data that could lead to Prevnar being recommended for all U.S. adults aged 50 and over is one possible near-term inflection point for sales of the vaccine.

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Special Report: Top 5 Vaccine Companies by Revenue - 2012 - Sanofi