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The COVID bump looks over for Pfizer as 2022 forecast falls short of Wall Street estimates, stock drops

February 8, 2022, 4:00 PM UTC

Pfizer Inc. forecast 2022 sales and profit that fell short of Wall Street estimates as projected revenue from its COVID-19 vaccine and recently cleared oral therapy disappointed investors. 

The New York-based drugmaker sees adjusted 2022 earnings of $6.35 to $6.55 a share, according a statement Tuesday, while analysts had estimated $6.65. Revenue will top out at $102 billion, Pfizer said, compared with the average analyst estimate of $106 billion.

With its COVID-fighting products seen accounting for $46 billion in 2022 sales, Pfizer’s $100-billion-plus target would mark a record high for the company and double total revenue from the year just before the pandemic. Yet the forecast appeared to further inflame investor anxieties about the impact of a fading pandemic on Pfizer’s prospects.

Pfizer said it clinched $32 billion in 2022 contracts for the vaccine, Comirnaty, through late January, and $22 billion for its pill, Paxlovid. Analysts had estimated $34 billion in Comirnaty revenue and $25 billion for Paxlovid.  

The disconnect between Wall Street expectations and the company forecast shows the outsize hopes investors have for the drugmaker’s pandemic products. Pfizer’s shares fell as much as 5.8% as of 10:14 a.m. in New York. American depositary receipts of BioNTech SE, Pfizer’s vaccine partner, fell as much as 9.6%, while competitor Moderna Inc. saw shares drop as much as 7.9%.

There’s still time for Pfizer to draw nearer to those expectations. Last year, the company repeatedly revised sales figures for its vaccine as it agreed to new contracts with governments and the market opportunity expanded amid a mounting pandemic. 

Yet Chief Financial Officer Frank D’Amelio offered a word of caution for the current year in his prepared remarks. “There is less potential upside to this guidance through the year, compared to the situation we faced in 2021 when the vaccine was newly available and few people had received any doses,” he said. 

2021 recap

Pfizer’s 2021 proved a success story due to the COVID shot. Comirnaty booked $12.5 billion in fourth-quarter sales, and $36.8 billion in all of 2021. The partners split the profit. Paxlovid, which Pfizer makes alone, generated $76 million in quarterly sales following its Dec. 22 clearance in the U.S.

Fourth-quarter profit was $1.08 a share, beating analysts’ average expectation of 88 cents, while sales of $23.8 billion narrowly missed estimates. 

Analysts will be listening closely on today’s conference call for hints as to how Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla plans to use the company’s vaccine cash. Pfizer expects to spend up to $11.5 billion on research and development this year, and has been pursuing a portfolio of products that utilize the underlying the vaccine’s messenger RNA technology. Bourla has signaled interest in bolt-on deals for early-stage science.

“I see this pace of business development accelerating going forward,” the CEO said in prepared remarks, “and I am confident it will be an important driver in ensuring Pfizer as a growth company in the back-half of this decade.”

Endemic strategy

Pfizer’s scientists don’t expect SARS-CoV-2 to be eradicated in the foreseeable future, due to global distribution of the virus, its ability to mutate, and given that natural infection doesn’t protect against transmission or other variants, Bourla said in the remarks. He said he expects the company’s COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to be durable commercial products as the pandemic evolves into an endemic phase, when lower levels of cases will become persistent. 

In the near-term, Pfizer expects the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize its COVID vaccine for use among children 6 months to 4 years old within the first quarter. Though it anticipates the initial clearance to be for a two-dose regimen, it said a three-dose regimen will likely be optimal for the age group. 

Pfizer also sees a need for additional booster shots, according to Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten. The company aims to soon share data on an Omicron-specific booster, and launch a bivalent vaccine candidate into trials. 

On the treatment front, Pfizer will produce six million treatment courses of Paxlovid in the first quarter, 30 million in the first half of the year, and 120 million over the full year. Dolsten said the company will launch a study of Paxlovid in children ages 6 to 18 years old in the first quarter.

Pfizer is working on a potential next-generation oral COVID treatment that would have efficacy against multiple strains and with reduced chances of drug resistance. The company expects to begin studying it in humans in the second half of 2022.

At the same time, Pfizer discontinued development of PF-07304814, an intravenous treatment candidate. Pfizer said the drug wasn’t likely to fulfill patient needs.

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