BioNTech expects to be $18.6B richer after this year as Covid boosters churn out more data. But it won't change much
Pfizer unveiled the riches that its Covid-19 vaccine is showering on itself and partners at BioNTech when it pegged 2021 sales at $33.5 billion. If the German biotech — which is in charge of designing the current vaccine and future mRNA boosters — is right, it could become a major revenue pillar for years to come.
At its latest quarterly update, BioNTech forecasts a €15.9 billion ($18.6 billion) cut for itself by the end of the year, after bagging €2.0 billion ($2.4 billion) in the first half.
The future BioNTech is outlining as a major mRNA player offers an interesting contrast with Moderna, which has signaled it will channel its overnight wealth into new bets on gene editing and gene therapy. Sure, there might be some deals to add combo candidates, but BioNTech made it clear the plan is to focus on infectious disease and immuno-oncology, with a broad pipeline it’s already started putting in place, featuring 15 programs and 18 clinical trials.
Unlike Moderna, BioNTech is also not shying away from modalities outside of mRNA to get there — be it small molecule immunomodulators, antibodies, TCR cell therapies or biologics.
Reiterating what they see as a need to boost the two-dose regimen with a third shot six to 12 months later, execs say the best approach would be to adopt the current vaccine — which is based on the wild-type, ancestral strain — for the booster.
Swapping out the strain for emerging variants is “technically possible” and would only take about 100 days under the current setup, CEO Uğur Şahin said. The team is already running a trial for the Beta variant while launching another against the Delta variant. But the key question is “when is the best time to change our plan” so that they don’t end up making a decision that turns out to be wrong down the road.
He raised the example of influenza, where the WHO defines the relevant strain every year for vaccine manufacturers to follow in updating their jabs.
“We do not yet have such a situation for the coronavirus,” he said. “And the challenge at the moment, the global challenge is that there are different variants on different continents. Even though the Delta variant is dominating North region, there are other regions like South Africa,” where the Beta variant is more prevalent.
Meanwhile, BioNTech plans to keep “accelerating and broadening” the rest of the pipeline, with the recent acquisition of Gilead subsidiary Kite’s TCR platform as an example of how it might do that. On top of a manufacturing site in Maryland, that deal brought 50 cell therapy experts to BioNTech, including a cell therapy production crew and a personalized neoantigen TCR research team.
When asked whether BioNTech would be looking to add a PD-1 drug to anchor its I/O portfolio — the only question from analysts that was not about boosters — Sahin said it “could be an option” if it fits the criteria.
We have, at the moment, our own I/O molecules also with the PD-1 blockade function in development as you know, and anti-PD-L1 plus for the 41BB bispecific is one of the positives. And we have internal programs also addressing additional I/O passes. And in the next 12 to 18 months, we will certainly come up with this deal, allowing us to increase our pipeline to further gain combination partners for the vaccines and immune modulators that we have already in placed.