Pfizer's Prevnar misses big on Q4 sales, dragging vaccines unit down with it

Pfizer's Prevnar vaccine handily missed fourth-quarter consensus sales estimates in results announced Tuesday.

Pfizer’s key pneumococcal vaccine, Prevnar, whose sales soared through 2015, stumbled in fourth-quarter results released Tuesday. The blockbuster shot fell significantly short of Street estimates and dragged on the company’s entire vaccines business.

The Prevnar family turned in total sales of $1.41 billion in the fourth quarter, down 25% from $1.86 billion during the same period in 2015. The sales haul missed Wall Street consensus estimates by more than $200 million, a shortfall Barclays analysts thought “could be due to a significant inventory build prior to the start of the quarter,” according to a Tuesday note.

In a statement accompanying the results, the New York pharma explained that Prevnar had been a victim of its own success. The shot enjoyed a “high initial capture rate of the eligible population” after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended routine use in adults 65 and older in 2014. With enormous initial success—propelling the company’s vaccines sales to huge gains in 2015—less “catch-up opportunity” remained last year.

Prevnar’s global sales contribution for the full year was $5.71 billion, down 8% from $6.24 billion in 2015. All told, the company’s vaccines group put up worldwide sales of just over $6 billion last year, a 6% decrease year over year.

Those declines are a far cry from the group’s growth spurt in 2015, when Prevnar posted growth of more than 40% each quarter.

Now, as the key brand is expected to slow in the coming years, EvaluatePharma recently estimated that the company’s vaccines group would post an average sales increase of just 2% per year through 2022.

But Prevnar might gain new life in the U.S. from a new indication in adults aged 18 to 49, granted by the FDA last year. That approval put Prevnar on tap for U.S. adults 18 and older. A new approval in China could help sales there as well.

Beyond Prevnar, Pfizer has worked to diversify its vaccines business through internal efforts and M&A. The company made three vaccine buys in the 11 months between July 2014 and June 2015, and it's testing vaccines against S. aureus and C. diff. It has unveiled a cancer vaccines platform, and it's also working on a maternal vaccination program against group B streptococcus infection.