Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 Sales Beat Expectations, but For How Long?

COVID-19 sales

Pictured: COVID-19 collage with earnings, vaccine, and patient/Nicole Bean for BioSpace

When the race began to create working vaccines and treatments for the COVID-19 pandemic, it was understood that not only was public health at stake, but also a financial windfall for the successful developers.

For BioNTech and Moderna, successfully developing a vaccine meant being propelled from small-scale biotechs into the large-cap company space. For well-established large companies such as Pfizer, the increase in sales led to a significant boost in share price. Since the peak of the pandemic, however, revenues from COVID-19 vaccine sales has dropped significantly, leaving companies trying to maintain their bottom lines and retain shareholders.

In its full-year 2023 financials, Pfizer managed to surprise the market by outperforming expectations, thanks to its unexpectedly strong COVID-19 business. Even though sales of its Comirnaty vaccine, developed alongside BioNTech, and its oral antiviral pill, Paxlovid, collectively fell 42% in the fourth quarter of 2023 compared to the same quarter in 2022, they brought in more revenue than expected. Overall, full year 2023 results saw Comirnaty earn $11.2 billion and Paxlovid $1.2 billion.

Moderna also managed to pull off better than expected results in its fourth quarter financials, with profits of $217 million. Net sales of its Spikevax COVID-19 vaccine fell by 43% to $2.8 billion, but this was offset by a higher average selling price, the company noted. Moderna’s results were also boosted by the recognition of $600 million in deferred revenue, related to work with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

The company stated that it also focused on reducing its costs by scaling back its own manufacturing capacity and commitments with contract manufacturing partners. A spokesperson for Moderna was not immediately available for comment.

Strategies to Offset Declining Sales

Looking ahead to full-year 2024 sales, Pfizer CFO Dave Denton stated in the investor call that the company expects to earn $8 billion in sales for its COVID-19 products, with Comirnaty’s revenue predicted to continue falling to $5 billion. Moderna also estimated that sales would continue to fall, from 2023 net sales of $6 billion to approximately $4 billion in 2024.

Kevin Marcaida, pharma analyst at GlobalData, told BioSpace that both companies have sought to maintain revenue of vaccines but raising the cost. “As a response to waning demand and the privatization of COVID-19 treatments, Pfizer has quadrupled the price of Comirnaty, now priced at $120 per dose. Similarly, Moderna has set the list price for Spikevax at $129 per dose, a strategic move to enhance profitability.”

Both Pfizer and Moderna have also responded to this challenge by working to establish a vaccine that can become a staple of annual vaccination, through the creation of a combined influenza and COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna announced in October 2023 that it had begun dosing patients in a Phase III trial, around the same time that Pfizer said that it would start a Phase III trial in the coming months.

“A combination vaccine against influenza and COVID-19 has the potential to help the impact of both diseases with a single injection, which could simplify immunization practices for providers, patients, and healthcare systems all over the world,” a Pfizer spokesperson told BioSpace in an email.

But Marcaida predicted that moving forward, pharma companies will prioritize therapeutic drugs aimed at treating patients, and move away from preventative vaccines. He estimated that Pfizer’s Paxlovid will generate $34.2 billion in total sales from 2023 to 2029.

Ben Hargreaves is a freelance science journalist based in Tosse, France. Reach him on LinkedIn.

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