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Pfizer’s COVID pill Paxlovid gets boost in Britain thanks to spot in national trial

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and antiviral show little sign of slowing down in the pandemic’s third year. Now, the company’s oral therapy is getting a boost across the Atlantic.

Thousands more people in the U.K. will gain access to Pfizer’s Paxlovid thanks to its inclusion in the national Panoramic study, which is looking at how best to use the pill among Britain’s highly vaccinated population, the country’s Department of Health and Social Care said Tuesday.

Paxlovid is the second antiviral to enter the Panoramic fray behind Merck & Co. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics’ molnupiravir, Britain’s health ministry pointed out. The drug has been shown to slash the risk of hospitalization or death by 88% in clinical studies, and it’s already available in the U.K. for patients with compromised immune systems, plus cancer patients or those with Down’s syndrome.

The study, which is open to adults over the age of 50 or those between 18 and 49 with underlying health conditions that boost the risk of severe COVID, has recruited more than 20,000 patients to help generate data on molnupiravir. Another 17,500 will be able to join to access Paxlovid, the U.K. said.

The Panoramic study aims to put antivirals on tap for a “large number of patients, while collecting further data on how the antivirals work where the majority of the adult population is vaccinated,” the health ministry explained in its release. The goal is to make sure antivirals are being used in the most effective way possible.

The British Paxlovid boost comes on the heels of one analyst team’s warning that hopes for Pfizer’s early-year pandemic sales may be a bit too highfalutin. On Monday, Cantor Fitzgerald analysts said they were dialing back their first-quarter sales estimates for Pfizer, which hinged on the assumption Comirnaty’s and Paxlovid’s haul would come in light for the first three months of the year.

Consensus estimates see Paxlovid making $1.4 billion outside the U.S. for the period, the Cantor Fitzgerald team explained. To hit its sales target ex-U.S., Pfizer would have needed to distribute around 4 million courses in 2022’s first quarter, but the analysts figure “that ramp-up is too steep given the amount distributed in [2021’s fourth quarter].”

Despite the team’s downward expectations for Q1, the Cantor Fitzgerald analysts pointed out that they’re keeping their full-year forecast for the company intact.

This year, Pfizer foresees its dynamic pandemic duo turning in a combined $54 billion in global sales. Of that sum, its BioNTech-partnered COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty is expected to generate $32 billion.