Don't sweat Prevnar's problems, Pfizer R&D chief says. New vaccines are on their way

Pfizer is feeling sales pressure on its megablockbuster pneumococcal vaccine, Prevnar 13, but behind that big-selling shot are several pipeline candidates it is counting on to propel future vaccines growth. 

During a discussion with Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson, Pfizer's worldwide R&D president Mikael Dolsten highlighted three vaccines as promising programs in the company's pipeline: a phase 3 immunization against Clostridium difficile infections, a phase 2 Staphylococcus aureus shot, and a 20-valent pneumococcal vaccine that could supplant Prevnar 13, which itself came online after the original seven-strain version.

Dolsten said he believes the next-generation pneumococcal vaccine "will position the company well for the next decade," Anderson wrote in a note detailing the discussion. The vaccines against healthcare-associated infections C. diff and S. aureus, if successful, "would represent new, unprecedented opportunities," for the drugmaker, Anderson noted.

RELATED: Pfizer, Valneva stand to gain from Sanofi's C. diff vaccine flop: report 

The C. diff phase 3 study involves 15,000 participants and is enrolling ahead of schedule, Anderson wrote, "which Dr. Dolsten thinks is a sign of the level of interest and need for this sort of vaccine." With Sanofi's recent setback—that drugmaker had to abandon its late-stage C. diff program—Pfizer believes it could have the "first and best-in-class option," according to Anderson.

C. diff caused nearly half a million infections in the U.S. in 2011, according to the CDC; 29,000 people died within 30 days of diagnosis. If Pfizer's vaccine succeeds in the late-stage study, a GlobalData expert recently predicted it'll see "strong uptake ... driven by Pfizer’s previous experience manufacturing and distributing vaccines." Depending on the results, Dolsten said the C. diff vaccine could be appropriate for an indication in older adults, Anderson wrote. 

GlobalData predicted the C. diff vaccine field will be worth about $1 billion. Valneva is also working on a late-stage candidate.

RELATED: Pfizer's Prevnar posts $1.53B in Q4 sales, handily beating consensus 

All of the R&D work comes as Pfizer's successful Prevnar 13 suffers sales pressure in the U.S. because of its initial success attracting adults seeking protection against pneumococcal disease. The vaccine franchise generated $5.6 billion last year and outperformed consensus expectations in the fourth quarter, but executives have long warned of fewer remaining "catch-up" vaccinations in U.S. adults. Sales for the Prevnar franchise fell 2% on the year versus 2016. 

Meanwhile, the company has been working to diversify its vaccine offerings. Pfizer also has a play in cancer vaccines with a 50% stake in Ignite Immunotherapy plus an internally developed prostate cancer vaccine, among other candidates, according to its online pipeline.