Pfizer PFE-N set off a fresh round of concern about the size of the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine and treatment market in the long term, driving down shares on Monday of its German partner BioNTech BNTX-Q and smaller rival Moderna MRNA-Q.
Vaccine makers are depending on the U.S. market as many countries have more limited yearly campaigns for giving updated shots. For BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax NVAX-Q, COVID vaccines remain their only approved products.
BioNTech shares dropped 7.2 per cent in Frankfurt trading while Moderna was down 5 per cent and shares of Novavax, whose new shot is only approved in the United States, were off 7 per cent in New York.
Shares of Pfizer were up nearly 5 per cent, however, buoyed by a US$3.5-billion cost-cutting plan the drugmaker announced late on Friday alongside its new COVID sales outlook.
Pfizer reduced its full-year forecast for sales of its antiviral COVID treatment Paxlovid by about US$7-billion, and for the vaccine it developed with BioNTech by about US$2-billion due to a plunge in use of pandemic-related products. It said it would make cuts this year and next and take a writedown.
On an early Monday call with analysts, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he expects around 17 per cent of the U.S. population will get updated COVID shots during the current vaccination campaign, in line with last year, but far below rates seen when vaccines first emerged in the spring of 2021.
Going forward, Mr. Bourla said the company expects this year’s demand to be the base rate but it was still watching the current campaign to be sure.
The U.S. is “in the middle of COVID fatigue, where everyone wants to forget about the disease,” he said.
Moderna, in a statement on Monday, maintained its current revenue forecast of US$6-billion to US$8-billion for its COVID vaccine for 2023.
Leerink analyst Mani Foroohar, who has an “underperform” rating on Moderna, said it is difficult to have confidence in the company’s market forecast given the pace of vaccinations. So far this fall, about 7 million of the updated COVID shots have been given in the U.S.
Mr. Foroohar said he is concerned with Moderna’s rate of spending and that the drugmaker is at risk of ending this year with less than US$10-billion of cash on its balance sheet, adding that it may need to increase cost cutting.
Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said Pfizer’s new COVID outlook implies lower vaccine sales for Moderna than it had forecast.
Moderna was not immediately available for comment.
BioNTech, which relies on vaccine-related profit-sharing payments from Pfizer for much of its revenue, said it would take a writedown of up to €900-million ($1.3-billion), the same size charge Pfizer announced for it on Friday.
BioNTech added that it had been told by Pfizer that most of the writeoffs relate to raw materials, as well as to inventories of vaccine versions that are older or different from the updated one currently in use.
Pfizer’s total non-cash charge of US$5.5-billion in the third quarter also includes US$4.6-billion in inventory writeoffs for its antiviral Paxlovid.
A BioNTech spokesperson on Monday declined to comment on the company’s current 2023 outlook. It reports earning on Nov. 6.
Pfizer’s shares, which are down about 37 per cent this year, trade at 9.8 times their 12-month forward earnings estimate, while BioNTech trades at 26.7, according to LSEG data.