Friday Five – The Pharma Week in Review (7 May 2021)

We break down five of the week's most important news stories.

For further analysis, listen to the latest episode of The FirstTake podcast here.

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How much???

  • Pfizer said on Monday that it expects to generate sales worth $26 billion from the COVID-19 vaccine BNT162b2 this year. Sales in Q1 were $3.5 billion.
  • The company had previously estimated 2021 sales worth $15 billion.
  • Forecast revenues could increase again – the $26-billion estimate is based on vaccine supply contracts signed by mid-April.
  • Elsewhere, Moderna said sales of its COVID-19 vaccine were $1.7 billion in the first quarter.

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US says lift vaccine IP protection

  • In a move ostensibly designed to increase global supply, the US government announced on Wednesday that it supports a proposal to temporarily lift intellectual-property (IP) protection for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The decision bought an instant and vociferous backlash from the pharmaceutical industry, which suggests this could set an unwarranted precedent for other types of drugs or vaccines.
  • They also argue that temporarily lifting IP protection serves primarily as a political and symbolic action that will not meaningfully increase global vaccine production in the near term due to a number of other limiting factors such as manufacturing capacity. 

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Pharma's biggest annual seller

  • To put the anticipated performance of BNT162b2 into context, no drug or vaccine franchise has ever generated annual sales in excess of $25 billion.
  • By comparison, sales of AbbVie's TNF inhibitor Humira and Merck & Co.'s PD-1 inhibitor Keytruda are forecast by analysts to generate sales of around $20 billion and $18 billion, respectively, this year.
  • BNT162b2 is also on track to become the fastest new drug launch of all time, eclipsing the $10.1 billion that Gilead Sciences' hepatitis C drug Harvoni generated in the first four quarters post-launch in 2014.

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AstraZeneca beats Q1 expectations

  • AstraZeneca was about the only Big Pharma to beat revenues expectations in the first quarter – thanks to the strength of its underlying business rather than sales of its own COVID-19 vaccine (Q1 sales of which were $275 million).
  • Indeed, after a challenging start to the year in terms of potential damage to its reputation stemming from vaccine related issues, not to mention associated operational difficulties, Q1 results provide a timely reminder that AstraZeneca is otherwise at the top of its game.
  • Sales of Tagrisso (lung cancer) and Calquence (chronic lymphocytic leukaemia) impressed in particular.

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Persistence paying off for Sarepta

  • Controversial though its approval back in 2015 was, Sarepta Therapeutics' drug Exondys 51 has allowed the company to build out leadership of the Duchene muscular dystrophy (DMD) market.
  • This week Sarepta lifted the lid on provisional data for a follow-up compound known as SRP-5051, which it says produces greater and faster increases in dystrophin compared to Exondys 51.
  • If subsequent data for SRP-5051 builds on this promise, Sarepta could supersede Exondys 51 in the long-term and eliminate persistent question marks about the latter's efficacy.
  • The company will, however, need to alleviate some early concerns about SRP-5051's safety profile as more data accumulate. More here

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