Friday Five – The Pharma Week in Review (29 July 2021)

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine sales tracking ever upwards…

Sales of the COVID-19 vaccine BNT162b2 were $7.8 billion in the second quarter and are on track to reach $33.5 billion for the full year, Pfizer said Wednesday.

This 'only' accounts for the 2.1 billion doses Pfizer has already agreed to supply as per signed contracts. With capacity to manufacture around 3 billion doses of BNT162b2 in 2021, most of which will go to low- and middle-income countries, full-year revenues could grow to around $45 billion, predicted Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal.

…and could get another boost

Sustainability of these revenues into 2022 will depend largely on whether Pfizer provides compelling enough evidence to convince governments around the world that a third 'booster' shot of BNT162b2 administered eight to 12 months after initial vaccination is necessary.

Preliminary data were published this week showing that the effectiveness of BNT162b2 against symptomatic COVID-19 declines steadily over time from four to six months post second dose. Encouragingly, however, results show that efficacy against severe disease was maintained over this period.

A tale of two vaccines

By comparison, AstraZeneca reported revenues for its COVID-19 vaccine worth $1.2 billion in the first half of 2021, noting that with the vaccine supplied at cost for the duration of the pandemic, it has made no profit on these sales. Indeed, it contributed to a $13 million loss made by AstraZeneca during the second quarter.

The company's protracted pursuit of US approval should reach a pivotal step in the next few months with AstraZeneca hoping to complete a biologics license application (BLA) for the vaccine. Submission has been delayed as a result of the FDA's onerous data demands, the company said Thursday.

Investors will perhaps also wince at the fact that projected sales of Pfizer's COVD-19 vaccine are set to outstrip AstraZeneca's total revenues in 2021 – a disconnect in commercial return that appears to be substantially larger than any perceptible difference between the two respective vaccines and their effectiveness at preventing severe infection, hospitalisation and death.

Keytruda bulks up in TNBC

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is poised to become another tumour type where Merck & Co.'s immunotherapy Keytruda emerges as a standard of care, thanks in part to two new announcements this week.

Keytruda is reportedly gaining strong adoption as a treatment for patients with advanced TNBC thanks to labelling that allows use with different types of chemotherapy. Its status in this setting will be further boosted by confirmation that Keytruda prolongs overall survival.

Use in high-risk, early-stage TNBC patients in the US market can now also commence following FDA approval for neoadjuvant and adjuvant use of Keytruda, regardless of PD-L1 status, based on recently disclosed event-free survival data.

See – ViewPoints: Keynote-355 hammers home Keytruda’s advantage in TNBC

Amgen doubles down on bispecifics

Amgen will acquire the bispecific and multi-specific antibody specialist Teneobio for an upfront payment of $900 million. The total value of the deal could rise to $2.5 billion and expands Amgen's existing investment in bispecific antibody research.

It is Amgen's third acquisition of 2021 following the earlier purchases of Rodeo Therapeutics and Five Prime Therapeutics.  

Teneobio has built up an impressive roster of out-licensing deals with the likes of AbbVie, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences and Intellia Therapeutics, and has spun out a number of separate affiliate companies, which will retain the rights to these drugs, including TeneoOne, which was acquired by partner AbbVie last month.

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