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As Pfizer reaps megablockbuster COVID-19 sales, CEO doesn’t see virus going away for ‘foreseeable future’

Among all biopharma companies, Pfizer has had the most successful response to COVID-19 by bringing to market a hugely lucrative vaccine and a new antiviral pill. Despite its pandemic wins, Pfizer scientists think it’s “unlikely that [SARS-CoV-2] will be fully eradicated in the foreseeable future,” the company’s CEO said Tuesday.

That’s because the virus’ global distribution makes it difficult to contain, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told analysts on the company’s fourth-quarter conference call. The virus also has the ability to “mutate often,” which makes it tough for companies to “stay ahead,” he said. Meanwhile, natural infections don’t confer the sort of durable protection needed stop mutations and spread, Bourla said.

Pfizer’s pandemic countermeasures have no doubt been good for its top-line. Last year, Pfizer’s full-year sales came in at a whopping $81.3 billion, buoyed by nearly $37 billion in COVID-19 vaccine sales. Looking forward, the company expects $54 billion in total sales from the Comirnaty vaccine and its new antiviral pill Paxlovid this year. Of that total, the company expects Comirnaty to account for $32 billion in 2022 sales.

As for Paxlovid, Pfizer expects to produce 6 million treatment courses during 2022’s first quarter, Bourla said. Overall, the company plans to crank out 30 million Paxlovid courses in the first half of 2022 and 120 million courses for the full year.

Excluding COVID-19 sales, Pfizer’s full-year revenues grew 6% last year to $44.4 billion.

Meanwhile, despite the megablockbuster haul from its COVID-19 vaccine, other parts of Pfizer’s prophylactic business are struggling. Look no further than the Prevnar family of pneumococcal shots—once Pfizer’s best-selling product—which endured a 25% global sales slump for the last three months of the year.

Pfizer blamed the fourth-quarter downturn in Prevnar 13 and Prevnar 20 sales on a 27% revenue decline in the U.S. Like many drugmakers in the vaccine game, Pfizer felt the squeeze last fall as the U.S. government prioritized COVID-19 vaccines and boosters over other shots.

Looking ahead, thanks to COVID sales and a beefy M&A war chest, Bourla is optimistic about Pfizer’s ability to continue charting growth through the end of the decade—even in spite of some heavy losses of exclusivity (LOE) on the horizon.

Consensus estimates currently predict Pfizer’s top line will shrink between 2025 and 2030, but that’s “inconsistent” with Pfizer’s own vision for the future, Bourla said.

“Our goal is to continue to be a growth company from ’25 to 2030, despite the impact of LOEs expected during that period,” the CEO said.

Starting in 2025, Pfizer faces U.S. patent expirations on Inlyta and Xeljanz, followed by potential LOEs on Eliquis, Ibrance and Xtandi through the second half of the decade. And it’ll counter those—at least in part—through external business development.

“The strength of our balance sheet and cash flows allows us to pursue new business development opportunities going forward that could add at least $25 billion of risk-adjusted revenue to our 2030 topline expectation, Bourla said.

“I see this pace of business development accelerating going forward,” he added. The CEO said he’s “confident it will be an important driver in ensuring Pfizer is a growth company in the back half of this decade.”

Still, it wasn’t all good news for Pfizer Tuesday. Quietly, the company culled a quartet of potential new indications for its approved cancer meds Bavencio and Talzenna. Pfizer has pulled the plug on Talzenna solo in second-line metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, plus Bavencio alone in first-line non-small cell lung cancer. The company also axed development on combination therapies of Bavencio and Talzenna in solid tumors with a BRCA or ATM defect, as well as locally advanced, primary or recurrent metastatic solid tumors.