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Pfizer expects $15B in COVID-19 vaccine sales in 2021; some analysts see more

Pfizer Inc. said the U.S.-authorized COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty is expected to bring in $15 billion in 2021 revenue for the pharmaceutical giant — nearly as much as its top three best-selling products generated last year.

The New York-based company is prepared to deliver at least 2 billion doses of the vaccine around the world in 2021, with 200 million doses to the U.S. by the end of May, executives said on Pfizer's fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 earnings call.

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Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla
Source: Pfizer

As of the end of January, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE have supplied 65 million doses around the world and 20 million to the U.S., CEO Albert Bourla said on the Feb. 2 call. Bourla also indicated that revenue from the shot, which requires two doses per patient, is difficult to predict.

"This is not an open market, at least for this year," Bourla said. "This year, it is a market that is controlled by governments — appropriately because we are in a crisis — and it is a market that creates a lot of political pressure."

Bourla said the vaccine revenue estimates were raised in the last two weeks with fellow COVID-19 vaccine makers like AstraZeneca PLC facing registration obstacles in Europe and Johnson & Johnson demonstrating lower efficacy compared to the 95% for Comirnaty.

Still, analysts like Morgan Stanley's David Risinger feel the forecast is conservative. Risinger expects revenue from the vaccine to be closer to $19 billion.

"Vaccine revenue 2021 guidance of [about] $15 billion includes only contracted doses — we estimate [about] 800 million to 900 million — which leaves plenty of room for upside given Pfizer can potentially deliver up to 2 billion doses in 2021," Risinger said in a Feb. 2 note.

Pfizer CFO Frank D'Amelio said the company does not want to assume it will sell all the doses it can produce. But the rise of COVID-19 variants and the ongoing pandemic could provide for a more lasting revenue stream.

Overall, Pfizer expects 2021 revenue to reach a range with a midpoint of $60.4 billion — excluding the COVID-19 projection, the revenue forecast is $45.4 billion. In 2020, the company brought in $41.91 billion.

"Our business, excluding COVID, is very robust with a robust pipeline," Bourla said. "But I think COVID has a very good chance to completely transform the revenue and earnings trajectory of this business starting from now."

The Upjohn complexity

The spinoff of Pfizer's generic drugs unit Upjohn to form a new entity with Mylan called Viatris Inc. closed in November, leaving the company's fourth-quarter reporting relatively complex, many analysts noted.

"The results are messy, but the underlying core biopharma business outlook is better than we had modeled," RBS Capital analyst Randall Stanicky said in a Feb. 2 note.

Executives were clear on the call that it was that biopharma focus that would drive the future of Pfizer. "The separation of Upjohn is behind us," D'Amelio said.

And with the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine, Bourla said the transformation was able to happen more quickly than anticipated.

"I believe Pfizer has accumulated expertise and knowledge of a decade into one year," Bourla said. "And also, Pfizer has completed infrastructure investments that would take five years again into one year."

Bourla also reiterated from past quarterly earnings calls that the company is always looking for business development deals.

"We will focus mainly on smaller deals that fit within our current therapeutic areas," Bourla said. "And as always, we are focused on value generation for Pfizer shareholders, not those of potential acquisition targets."

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Fourth quarter and full year 2020

Pfizer said its fourth-quarter 2020 adjusted earnings — a figure that excludes the discontinued Upjohn generics business — increased 15% year over year.

The pharmaceutical giant reported fourth-quarter adjusted income of $2.37 billion, or 42 cents per share, up from $2.06 billion, or 36 cents a share the year before, leaving previous income from Upjohn out of the reporting.

Revenues for the quarter were up 12% year over year to $11.68 billion from $10.45 billion.

On a reported basis, net income for the quarter amounted to $594 million, or 10 cents per share, compared with a loss of $337 million, or 6 cents per share, a year ago.

Pfizer's full-year 2020 adjusted earnings totaled $12.51 billion, or $2.22 per share, up 16% from $10.82 billion, or $1.91 per share, in 2019. Again, the adjusted values exclude any past income from the Upjohn business.

Revenues rose 2% to $41.91 billion from $41.17 billion in 2019.

On a reported basis, net income for the year was down 41% to $9.6 billion, or $1.71 per share, from $16.27 billion, or $2.87 per share in 2019, largely as a result of the income that Upjohn generated at that time.